Sex, sexuality, and surgery

By , December 12, 2011 1:34 pm

No one looks like they're enjoying this situation, to be honest

In Which A Question Is Asked

What does it mean to be a sexual trans person? A sexual trans woman?

Sidenote: I’m looking for my copy of Fucking Trans Women, an awesome e-zine available at http://fuckingtranswomen.com/. I know I bought and downloaded it, but am having trouble finding it. I emailed the site owners, tho, and hopefully they’ll be willing to send me another copy. At the very worst, I can spare another $5 for their great project.

Back on topic, I think being trans and sexual is tough for me (gonna try to use ‘I’ statements in this post, and not make generalizations) in part due to the huge variety of mixed messages I’ve received over the last 27 years. I’m sure I’m missing some categories, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Messages about male sexuality, even though I didn’t identify as male
  • Messages about female sexuality, which I picked up even though I wasn’t yet presenting as female
  • Messages about heterosexual sexuality, mainly from when I was presenting as a straight male
  • Messages about queer sexuality, both before and after I came out
  • Messages about specifically lesbian sexuality, again from both before and after I came out
  • And last-but-never-least, messages about specifically trans sexuality, limited primarily to ‘chicks with dicks’ and ‘she-male’ porn

Again, I want to clarify that this post is going to be about my experiences. I’d love for people to chime in, but I’m not attempting to speak for anyone else, of any sexual orientation, gender identity, personal experience, etc, etc, etc. On the way I may make some wider generalizations about The Trans Sexual Experience, but my goal is much more to bring some clarity to my sexual experience, identity, and so on. So there.

I also think this is a good time to link to the these three posts I did on sex and the effects of hormones, back in late 2009. (Wow, two years ago?) Those used to be password protected, but are now public. Funny how my attitudes on privacy have changed in two years…hopefully posting all that stuff won’t come back to haunt me, but I gotsta say what I gotsta say. 😉

Things I Wish I’d Known

TERRIFYING SEX ED DOLLS

I just re-read all three of those posts, and everything about them still stands as it relates to my early experience with sex and sexuality. Looking back now, I do think I was a lot more awkward than I thought I was at the time. That’s probably true for lots of people’s budding sexuality. But I think I owe my first major girlfriend an apology for what I can only imagine was a mediocre experience for her. I wish she’d spoken up, but I also wish I’d known how to ask what she wanted.

I also wish I’d come to an earlier realization that I don’t like being the penetrator in penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex. I don’t know if it’s the mental aspect of how I relate to my body, or the physical size of my ‘equipment,’ but I’ve never really enjoyed that kind of penetrative sex. I’ll do it, and – to clarify – I enjoy it enough that I’d rather do that than nothing… Mediocre sex is better than no sex, in my mind. I’m not totally sure – from my admittedly limited sample size – that the experience was great for my partners, either.

That’s perhaps the biggest thing I can point to and say “this was a lesson I learned being socialized as male, in a primarily heterosexual society.” I simply didn’t have a concept of sex outside of penis-in-vagina. Foreplay, fooling around, hooking up – there were lots of other ways to be sexual, but only one way to have sex.

Likewise, I imagine my (now mostly faded) hangups about anal sex and anal play came from being told – implicitly by culture, if never explicitly by anyone – that anal play was dirty, unpleasant, something for the penetrator and not the penetratee. That it was gay.

Fortunately, I’ve been honest enough with myself and with my body to realize that A) it’s not tooooo dirty if you do it right, and B) it (at least for me) it feels really good.

There’s still some lumped in baggage I possess, swirling around the ideas I picked up concerning male and female heterosexual, cisgender sexuality – basically my first three bullet points – which I’m going to lump together and call heteronormative : Who is supposed to initiate a sexual experience, how power dynamics are supposed to work between partners, all that stuff above about penetrative sex and anal sex and the definition of ‘real sex.’

As I become aware of those lingering hangups, I try to address them and think them through. Something I think I’ve really managed to turn around is my definition of sex: It’s not a specific act, it’s an experiential thing. My straight friends sometimes laugh when I call them out on this, but in my mind a blowjob or mutual masturbation or whatever is just as much sex (or, at least, can be just as much “sex”) as penetrative, penis-in-vagina, “real sex.”

Last Friday Night

Friday was a good friend’s birthday. A bunch of mutual friends had dinner, came back to my apartment for some drinks, and went out to a club. Usually I don’t join for that last part (something I’ve mentioned before). But this weekend, for whatever reason, the stars aligned and I was ready to go out. So we all headed down to The Apartment, a bar/club in Chicago near the wealthy Lincoln Park neighborhood. The dancing was kind of ridiculous (as dancing tends to be) but the music wasn’t horribly obnoxious, I had my first experience taking a drink from an ice luge, and was generally having a good time.

I'd like to imagine we looked something like this

Our group was dancing in a little clump, and whenever a stranger would come up and start to dance with me I’d politely (I hope!) turn or move away to make it clear I wasn’t interested. I’m realizing that in and of itself probably would have freaked me out a few years ago, so it’s a sign of how far I’ve come in my comfort presenting as a woman that it didn’t phase me.

But I was a few (more) drinks in and feeling loose when I felt someone’s hands – a stranger’s hands – on my hips from behind.

A pause to say that nothing bad happens. I feel like this story is progressing to the point where it seems everything will end badly, but it doesn’t: I’m not raped or sexually assaulted, my friends don’t abandon me, nothing bad happens. This is just about my processing a new experience, and my emotional reactions to it. So you are absolved from worrying about my safety for the remainder of this story.

We continue dancing, this strange man pressed up behind me. His hands go up and down my hips, and I gently move them when I feel they’re getting too frisky. I’m still facing my group of friends, regularly making eye contact with them and non-verbally communicating that I’m OK. (They kept doing the raised-eyebrow checkin, to which I’d smile and shrug.)

After a few minutes dancing, I decided I was done and turn to the guy (much shorter than I expected, but then I’m already tall and was in heels) and said I was going to the bathroom. He actually asked if he could join, which I think is kind of hilarious, but I declined and we parted ways.

Two of my friends followed me to the bathroom to check on me, for which I was grateful but didn’t think I needed. But then while I was in the bathroom (actually in a stall; I don’t think either of them know this part) I had a mini panic attack. Suddenly, those two big worries I’d pushed aside came to the forefront:

  • What if he found out I was trans?
  • What did my enjoying dancing with a (presumably) straight cis man mean about my own sexuality?

Questions Beget Questions

The first question is more pragmatic. I was in a very public place, surrounded by friends (including some large men who look intimidating) and wasn’t reeeeaaalllyyy concerned for my physical safety. I could have been emotionally hurt, quite severely in fact, if he’d moved his hands a little too far south and subsequently freaked out. But I don’t think there’s a realistic chance I could have ended up as an other Trans Day of Remembrance statistic. Which feels kind of good, that my friends were providing that (literal) safety net.

The second question is a lot more difficult to tease out.

I'm going to recommend AGAINST performing a Google Image Search on 'transgender sex' with SafeSearch disabled

I have lots of straight, cis, female friends who enjoy dancing with other straight, cis, females. (Some of them were doing so at this bar on Friday.) But no straight, cis, male friends who enjoy dancing with other straight, cis, males except when being silly. But I don’t think simply enjoying male attention inherently “breaks” my lesbianism. At the same time, there’s a different between being ideologically OK with some action, and then finding yourself in a situation where you have to evaluate how it actually makes you feel.

What I’m leaning more and more is that I simply enjoy attention. Period. I’m not sure how to respond to male attention, what to do about it, where I want it to go, but if I’m being honest with myself I do enjoy it. But there’s something scary, for me, to be on the receiving end of it. First is all that trans baggage of physical safety and stories of rape and beatings and death. Something which is also true for cis women in many ways, but I don’t think there’s quite the same cultural acceptance of violence and sexual assault against cis women as there is against trans women At least not so explicitly: You can find talking heads on news stories to cast doubt on the inherent sanctity of a trans woman’s body in a way that few are willing to do (publicly) about cis women’s bodies.

So what do I do with that male attention?

Coupled in with that is my continuing surprise and delight at being perceived as a ‘real’ woman, let alone an attractive one. I’m still so doubting go my appearance, in spite of all reassurances to the contrary, that there’s an aspect of shock that some random dude at a club would want to dance with me.

More importantly, though, is that bullet-point list of baggage from the beginning of this post. There’s still some hindbrain part of my psyche which thinks of me as male, as dancing with “another” man as a (male) gay act. Which is bullshit, and something I was able to drink myself out of believing, when my inhibitions were down and I wasn’t over-thinking every little thing. On the flip side, I’ve invested quite a bit of emotional energy into defining my sexuality as ‘lesbian,’ and while I’ve been recently question that for the more open-ended ‘queer’ I’m still not totally sure what that means for me.

That Whole Surgery Thing

Then there’s the final bit of this post’s title: Surgery. I’m still doing my research, but have basically narrowed down my selection to Drs Bowers (San Fran), McGinn (Philly), and Brassard (Montreal). I’m moving right now to schedule consultations with all three.

But what does surgery mean? There’s a part of me that – only somewhat jokingly – thinks that I’ll feel permission to slut it up, with my major worry of being ‘discovered’ as trans inverted up inside me. There’s exploration many people do in high school and college that I feel I missed out on.

At the same time, surgery becomes one more terrifying (and awesome and exciting, but also terrifying) ‘virginity’ to lose, both metaphorically and literally.

So, returning to my initial question, what does it mean to be a sexual trans woman? Hell if I know. I think it means all of this: this discovery, this forging my own path. Not only do I not want to follow a prescribed path to my sexuality, I don’ think there is one. There aren’t enough trans narratives to feel like I have the ability to find many ‘just like me’ role models out there. That isn’t to say I haven’t drawn from the experiences of others. Whipping Girl, Yes Means Yes, The Ethical Slut, How To Get What You Really Really Want, Cunt; these books (and authors) have all heavily impacted how I think of myself as a sexual being.

But I think I have to find the rest of the way myself.

One Response to “Sex, sexuality, and surgery”

  1. Joan says:

    I don’t consider myself a lesbian (for a few reasons), but I can totally relate to everything you said about liking men. It’s weird. I can’t decide whether I’m attracted to them, and it was really hard to tell how I felt about the one dude I’ve slept with.

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