Good communication can support a healthy relationship, be it with partners, family, or friends. Active Listening is a specific kind of communication, which many people find useful for enhancing understanding.
This article is part of our series “Sex and Sexuality for Trans People”.
Active listening is a form of therapeutic or empathetic listening, which focuses on understanding the speaker’s perspective, and encouraging them to explore their thoughts and emotions. Like most skills, active listening takes time, effort, and practice to learn. Other types of listening include critical listening (listening to evaluate the information or message), and informational listening (listening to learn). Active listening is neither of these: it’s purpose is help you listen thoroughly and understand the speaker’s point of view. Often active listening is used when supporting someone, building trust, and discussing difficult experiences. It can help the listener focus on what is being said, rather than their thoughts about it.
Show you’re listening and make it easier for the speaker to continue by giving feedback. This may include facing the speaker, making eye contact, leaning toward them, nodding, or saying ”yes” or ”mm hmm”. Assure them with verbal or non-verbal cues that you want to hear what they have to say.
Defer judgement while you listen. Remain open, rather than quickly forming an opinion. If you find yourself disagreeing, try to see the situation from their perspective – it doesn’t mean you have you have to agree. Remember that the point is to understand their experience.
Allow for pauses, give the speaker time to reflect and explore their thoughts. Avoid rushing toward problem solving.
Reflect back what was said with questions, such as ”so what you’re saying is…”. Mirroring means using the same words as the speaker, and shows that you are listening. Paraphrasing is putting it into your own words, and shows that you are trying to understand.
Listen for the message, as well as intent and emotions. Listen for what is being said, and what is being left unsaid. Watch and listen for non-verbal cues. Tone, facial expressions, and body language can help you understand the emotions and the strength of the emotions, as well inconsistencies between what is said and non-verbal cues being expressed.
Name the emotions
Name the emotions without making a judgement on the accuracy of the facts, for example ”it sounds like that was really frustrating for you”. You can validate the speakers emotions without having to agree with their reasons. For example, ”if you thought x it’s totally understandable why you felt y”.
Ask questions to encourage the speaker. Relevant questions help build or clarify the speaker’s thoughts. Open ended questions invite them to elaborate. Ask what they’ve tried or or what solutions they see rather than offering advice. If you don’t follow, ask for clarification – ”what did you mean when you said…?”
Don’t interrupt the speaker with your thoughts or actions, and try to stay focused on what they’re saying rather than thinking about your opinions or something else. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for the speaker. Changing the subject (even subtly) can make the speaker think that you are uninterested or have not been listening.
Summarise the speaker’s main points at the end of the conversation, so that you both know whether you have understood them correctly. Be concise, and be prepared to be corrected. After the conversation, the speaker and listener should have the same understanding of what was said.
This resource explains some core concepts for making sure you have consent in sexual situations, as well as practical steps and examples. It is designed for transgender adults, and may not be suitable for younger viewers
You can scroll down to read the original online, or download the second edition PDF.
Consent means agreeing to something without feeling like you have to agree to it. At a glance, consenting to sex can be simple – someone asks you if you want to have sex and you say yes or no. But there are many factors which can make a person feel pressured to say yes. When a person says yes because they are pressured into it directly, this is sometimes called ‘coercion’. Coercion can be very direct and easy to see, or it could be more subtle. It may include forcing them, sulking, passive aggressive pressure, or saying ‘if you loved me you would…’.
Consent should never be coerced on purpose, and we also have a responsibility to try to make sure we don’t coerce consent by accident as well. We call this ‘good consent practises’.
Making sure you have good consent practices can be a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun.
There is a metaphor called the ‘Consent Castle’, where we liken starting a new relationship to building a castle. It goes like this:
When you meet someone you like, you might decide to build a castle together. In the beginning, you will need to talk a lot about what you both want from a castle, and make sure you’re on the same page. You might write some things down, draw some diagrams, share your ideas.
Next, when you start to build your castle, you will probably need to be extra careful – you might wear hard hats, steel toed boots, and check in with each other frequently. As time goes on and the castle takes shape, you will be able to relax and enjoy it more without having to talk about every step, and one day when the castle is finished, it will become a comfortable and familiar place where you can have fun together. Castles are always a work in progress – you might need to do some maintenance now and then, and if you want to change something or add another room you’ll probably need to put on your hard hats and overalls and plan it out carefully, but by planning and talking and working it out together in the beginning, you will have build a strong foundation for a mutually satisfying castle.
Before they first have sex with a new partner, some people like to have conversations about sex in a relaxed situation when sex isn’t about to happen immediately. If the conversation is not focused on ‘if/when we have sex’ but instead is about ‘when people have sex’, this can make it easier to bring up broader social pressures and other issues, likes and dislikes, emotions, expectations, and any other issues. This can give everyone involved an opportunity to talk about how they feel, and what they want from sex or a relationship, and from each other.
During sexual encounters, it’s important to check in – or ask how the other person is feeling or if they want to do a certain activity, or whether what you are doing feels good. The answer may be that they want you to do something a little differently, or that they want to try something else, or that they feel amazing. Communicating during sex can be fun and sexy, and it means that you will always know if your partner likes something or not.
Likewise, talking about it afterward can be really useful. Sometimes we did like something at the time, but later we realise it also gave us a cramp! Or made us feel insecure about part of our body. Or we think of something else that might be good to try next time. Talking about sex can be empowering, and it gives us lots of opportunities to make choices.
What about hookups and one night stands?
Practicing good consent is also possible for casual hookups. While you may not want to have long conversations with someone you’ve just met, getting into the habit of discussing sex before you start having it can mean that you both have better experiences.
For example, Andy tells Shay he sometimes feels like the gay dating scene expects everyone to do oral sex without condoms, and that’s hard for him as a trans man, because he wants to fit in but he also wants to protect his sexual health. Later when they’re hooking up, Shay has the opportunity to let Andy know it’s fine to use condoms, which makes Andy feel much more relaxed and valued as a person, and then he can make more of a free choice about whether to use a condom or not. Understanding each other more and being more relaxed also makes the whole experience more fun for both people.
Tip: asking for consent while physically initiating a sexual action can make the other person feel pressured into accepting. Get consent before you act.
More info on sex and sexuality for trans people
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Gender Minorities Aotearoa is hosting SHE + THEY during Fringe Festival and Pride Month in Wellington.
“Love in transition… in rural NZ.”
A New Zealand Premiere by the writer/performer of award-winning “”ZE.”
When: 17 to 21 March, 6:30pm to 7:30pm. Where: Aunty Dana’s Op Shop, 130 Riddiford Street, Newtown. Cost: $10 Concessions, $15 Standard. Accessibility: Aunty Dana’s is on the ground floor, it is up 2 steps with a hand rail, The bathroom is all-genders and has a hand rail. The lighting is non-fluro tubing, or non-fluro lamps. It is a low allergen space, with tile flooring, no air-freshers, and we ask that you please refrain from wearing perfume or cologne.
Supported by Zir Productions, Gender Minorities Aotearoa, Aunty Dana’s Op Shop, and Creative NZ- Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa. Part of Fringe Festival, Celebrating 30 Years at the Fringe. Tix and Bits at fringe.co.nz
Image of a couple’s hands clasped together, cupping an artickoke heart between them, on a black background