Riding Down "Queer Street" with Quinn Rhodes

Category: Culture

Author: Aria Vega

Quinn Rhodes is a writer and sex blogger based in Scotland. In 2017, he launched his site On Queer Street, where he explores sexuality, disability and LGBTQ+ identity through various media, including writing, erotic photography and audio porn. Half a decade later, Quinn’s writing has evolved into a full-blown career, with his byline appearing in outlets like Refinery29 and Huffington Post. You can always count on Quinn for a hot take on queer life that cis straight folks can learn a lot from too.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I’ve been reading your work for a while, and you’re an incredible writer. Did you always want to be one?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve never been the kind of person who writes in journals or diaries but I have written lots of fiction stories, especially fan fiction. I wrote and read a lot of that throughout my high school years, and I actually got most of my sex education from fan fiction. It gave me the language to describe and explore my queerness, and I was inspired to keep writing about that.

On Queer Street is actually the writing project I’ve stuck with the longest. I essentially wanted a topic that I’d have a lot to say about, and I knew I’d never run out of things to say about sex. And it’s true – five years in and I haven’t run out yet! It’s funny, if you went back in time and told me 10 years ago that I’d be making money from writing about sex in my twenties, I would have been horrified, because at that point I was so detached from my own body for a few different reasons.


An illustration by Hazel Mead audio erotica collection from Quinn's blog, On Queer Street.

I imagine that one of them was vaginismus, which you’ve written about your experience with. Can you describe the condition and its symptoms?

Vaginismus refers to the involuntary clenching of the pelvic floor muscles, particularly when any type of penetration is involved. Although one to six percent of people with vaginas have been clinically observed to have the condition, the numbers are likely much higher, because many are too ashamed to report it to a doctor. Plus, this is the same group of people who hear that sex is supposed to hurt, especially the first time. So, if you’re encountering pain, you’re expected to just push through it. Even now, people who take these issues to doctors are often told, “Oh, just have a glass of wine and relax a bit.” You have to work incredibly hard to be heard.

Has the media or pop culture been helpful at all in boosting visibility of this issue? That’s often when a stigma starts to wane.

We got a character called Lily with vaginismus on the first season of Netflix’s Sex Education, which was a big win! In the second season, we see Lily begin to use dilators, moving from the smallest size (which is still really painful at the time) up to the next size. There’s a scene where she puts in that larger size after a super-hot kiss with her girlfriend, and I’m like, “This is brilliant!” I know that it will help so many people. But also, I was so, so sad because I wasn’t at the stage where I could move up a size like that. It used to make me so insecure. This storyline was such a step forward in terms of representation, and personally, I wanted to cry.

That sounds really hard. Without seeing a character like Lily on TV as a kid, how did you start to realize that you suffered from vaginismus?

Embarrassingly, I’d been writing on my sex blog for about four months before I realized that I might have vaginismus. The first time I had PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex, I knew I probably wasn’t ready for it but we were going to go slowly. We tried and I was just in too much pain. He stopped – and I’m really glad he stopped and didn’t push me any further. But I didn’t understand what had hurt so much. I’d been expecting pain, but not so much that I couldn’t push through it. As time went on, I had sex with him a few more times and it was really great. We explored different things and I had my first orgasm, but any time we did anything involving vaginal penetration, I was in pain and wanted to stop.

“It' almost like I absorbed the idea that my body is expected to perform a certain way because of how it appears, which I haD no interest in honoring."

I started trying to work out how to get off on my own, which probably seems a little bit backward. I think that speaks to my own dysphoria about my body, and not wanting to touch myself because I didn’t understand my body. I would read lots of erotica to get really turned on, and use loads of lube, and still I found penetration so painful that I wanted to scream. Finally, I messaged a friend who was sexually experienced about whether this was normal, and she said, “No, definitely not.” I was so shocked!

I started googling “pain during penetration” and “vaginismus” was the first word that came up. I immediately thought, “Oh, there’s a word for this?”, and researched it for the next three hours. Having a word to describe what I’d been going through and knowing I wasn’t broken and that I didn’t need to force my body to do anything, it gave me permission to just pause. I could just think, “PIV is not on the table right now, but that’s fine.”

As a trans guy, has vaginismus ever caused or contributed to dysphoria for you?

I don’t think I can meaningfully separate my vaginismus from my dysphoria. Looking way back to my childhood, I always shied away from learning too much about my body, or puberty, or anything like that. I thought periods were poop and not blood until I was, like, 13. It was like I wanted to tune out any information about my own body. When I first told a close friend I thought I might be trans, he wondered if my virginity had anything to do with it, and the idea that being unable to have PIV sex, this seemingly fundamental aspect of womanhood, made me not want to identify that way.

He was really just asking how my vaginismus played into my gender identity, and at the time, I didn’t understand the question. I was still experiencing a lot of imposter syndrome about being trans. Which is why, as I said, I don’t think I can disconnect my vaginismus from my gender identity. Thinking about someone fucking my vagina hurts me physically. I clench up, I tense my whole body. It’s widely believed that vaginismus is primarily a psychological condition, and not a physical one.

Photo from Quinn Rhodes

As such, I have a few theories as to why I might have vaginismus, such as being raised Catholic in an incredibly isolated religious place. But I think the biggest one for me is a disconnect with my own body and a fear of having sex in a “normal” way. It’s almost like I absorbed the idea that my body is expected to perform a certain way because of how it appears, which I have no interest in honoring. At this point, I’m no longer dilating, and I’m not even interested in having PIV sex in the future. I’m curious about it, but lack the desire to explore it.

How would you characterize your sex life currently, now that you’re able to identify and articulate what you need?

I lose nothing in my sex life by having vaginal sex be off the table. In fact, I think I gained things, as I’m able to screen out the people who won’t honor my needs. In the first line of my Tinder bio right now, I describe myself as “disabled, queer, and trans,” and in the second line, I talk about having vaginismus. I like to get those disclaimers out of the way, so that people who wouldn’t want to sleep with me because of any of those things can self-select out of my dating pool. I have no interest in having sex with anyone who won’t accommodate my disability or who doesn’t respect my gender.

In addition to your blog, you also write a newsletter called Gender Bent, where you write essays about your experience of transmasculinity. Can you tell me about the ideas you’re exploring there?

Trans people are in the media a lot nowadays, but we’re often written about by cis people, and often in ways that make us out to be perverts and predators. Even when we’re written about by cis people who support us, I still don’t always love the way we’re written about. I wanted a place to write where I didn’t have to hold back my anger as much. Because I am very angry. I’m carrying a lot of anger and pain in my body about the way the world treats trans people.

A lot of the time when I’m writing, I have to be aware that I’m not writing for a trans audience, but a cis audience. So in my newsletter, I want to express all of my anger and passion and joy — because I have so much joy around being trans, too — in a way that is not inaccessible to cis people, but that doesn’t center them either. It’s me being raw and vulnerable and exploring the messy parts of my gender journey that don’t get written about in mainstream media.

Talk to me a little about that journey. How did your understanding of your gender evolve alongside the massive cultural shift that now has trans people under a media microscope?

Growing up in such an isolated place, I had virtually no language for my experience before I gained access to the internet as a teenager. Then, in 2015, I made a Tumblr account and started getting into fan fiction, which gave me all these new words I could try on, like lesbian or bisexual. I knew I was queer, but still hadn’t figured out my own gender yet, because that was still pretty taboo then. Trans folks existed, but not under the same kind of spotlight we do now. But this meant there was more barriers to accessing essentials like healthcare and a government ID that reflects one’s true gender.

“If trans folks aren’t protected, then even cis queer people who present as gender-nonconforming can be targeted…”

It’s been great to see awareness of trans people generally grow, but it also means we have tons of legislation being proposed and passed expressly to erode our rights. In the UK right now, we’re finally passing a ban on conversation therapy. However, at the last minute, it was altered to protect only lesbian, gay, and bisexual folks. Transgender people remain vulnerable to this abusive practice. And if trans folks aren’t protected, then even cis queer people who present as gender-nonconforming can be targeted. That’s one of the most frustrating things about the modern TERF “gender critical” movement. These people claim to be feminists, yet they want to impose very rigid gender roles on people, especially those who aren’t cis.

Photo from Quinn Rhodes

What is a central idea about trans identity that you wish to communicate through your work?

To me, I have always been a man. There is a starting point to me figuring out that I’m a man and stepping into my gender. But even coming out was not a one-and-done process. I’ve come out in small ways, to different people, over a very long time. Until I have top surgery, and maybe even after that, I’m going to be correcting assumptions about my gender every time I step into a room. It’s something I think about every minute of every day, how I’m perceived by society. While I’m very exhausted by it, I think there’s value in educating cis folks about trans identity and I’m happy to do it. I just don’t want that work to have to center their feelings. I want to center the feelings of the trans people being fucked over by every system in this country, and frankly, around the world.

Podcast Transcript: