If there’s one thing I absolutely, completely, unabashedly, openly do NOT miss about the heterosexual, cisgender world, and trying to live in it, it’s the approach to dating and, perhaps especially, sex.
No talking. No communicating needs, desires or boundaries. No assumed acceptance of quirks and preferences. No assumed existence of variable boundaries to how far someone will or will not explore. Very little exploring at all, really. Just expectations. Just a script, that we’re all assumed to enjoy, be okay with, follow, and also somehow intuitively know by heart, even though no one ever bothered to talk about it or teach it to us. Just this overwhelming sense that you’re either doing it right, or doing it wrong, and if what you do or want to do or how you do things doesn’t quite fit into the vague, completely undefined script, there’s something wrong with you.
Just know what they want, and what you want, and it had better somehow miraculously conform to all those expectations, because if it turns out that vague, completely undefined script isn’t what you want, well… you ought be ashamed of yourself, little miss.
Of course not all heterosexual, cisgender couples’ sex lives play out like this. For many, I’m sure it gradually, by necessity, evolves away from the script and into actual, honest engagement with one another, negotiating desires, preferences, boundaries and needs. And all my experiences of “normal” sex were during those awkward, formative, silly, early years, where no one has any idea what they’re doing (but feel an intense social pressure to pretend they do) and everyone is still immature, and not fully aware of their own desires and needs.
But needless to say, being queer, of any stripe, by nature demands that one go off script. And when you go off script, suddenly you need to improvise. And that demands communicating with each other. By far the most noticeable difference between sleeping with women (when I was living as male) and sleeping with men (when I was living as male) was that in the latter case, there was suddenly the presence of talking. No more silence.
One of the difficulties, though, is how pervasive the script is, and that even when we’re off the reservation we often allow those assumptions, those few scraps of sexual information we were provided between the lines of our sex ed handouts, to continue defining the parameters of our sexualities, and limit our imaginations, regardless.
Consider, for instance, how many straight people assume that all sex between two men is anal sex. Consider how many young, inexperienced gay boys believe the same thing and let it scare the bejeesus out of them. Why on Earth would we assume something like that? Because the script says sex is penetrative. Penis + orifice.
We can read particularly extreme instances of our definitions and conceptualizations of sex being so limited all over the place. People who believe, for instance, that oral sex isn’t sex and therefore doesn’t “count” relative to whether or not they’re a virgin. People who believe, even, that pregnancy can be prevented by assuming non-missionary positions, as though deviating from the narrowly pre-defined sexual expectations in any way leaves you so far outside the bounds of what “sex is like” that it changes the nature of the biological act itself.
As I’ve talked a bit about before, how the script is structured interrelates with how we define gender and gender roles. I’ve been thinking and I still can’t come up with one good reason why being on top (spatially speaking) should be considered “masculine” and being on bottom considered “feminine”. So deep does the assumed archetypal “right” way of fucking ingrain itself in our consciousness that every detail of the model (a woman on her back, legs spread, man on top of her, pelvis between her legs, penis-in-vagina intercourse) entrenches itself into our very definitions of those concepts. Like what is and is not feminine, womanly, or conversely masculine, manly. It’s almost as silly as gendering how you go pee (which we also do, hilariously).
This becomes all kinds of trouble for trans people, particularly those who haven’t been trans for very long. Those assumptions, relative to sexuality, assumed preferences, assumed nature of what sex is, and how gender roles are encoded in sexual acts, all run deep enough to be a serious limitation to how much cis people are able to enjoy themselves. But at least, in their cases, even amongst the queerly cis, the anatomy and relationship between anatomy and desire is all on-model, on-script, on-the-reservation (exceptions being made, of course, for people with various kinds of disabilities, differently sized bodies, intersexed bodies, certain psychological needs, etc., for whom much of what I’m going to say here about negotiating the relationship between anatomy and desire, and negotiating the needs and functions of an extraordinary body, likely also applies.)
The simple, factual truth of it, which is probably going to sound as foreign to most cis readers as the idea that gay people have sex in non-anal ways sounds foreign to particularly sheltered straight people, is that transsexual bodies, and transsexual genitals, pre-operative much more so than post-operative, do not function the same way cisgender versions of the same genital configurations do. A trans woman’s penis, for instance, does not function, respond, feel, react or even quite look the same as a cis man’s penis does (or a trans man’s penis, for that matter). They just aren’t the same thing. Sorry.
Now, there’s a very very good chance that this is where ingrained assumptions about how sexuality, and sexual anatomy, works, and the cisnormative manner in which sexuality is taught to us (to the miniscule degree that it is ever taught at all), will lead to a knee-jerk response of “That’s just psychological! It’s all in your head!”. But no. Sexual hormones have an ENORMOUS impact on sexual function, and the straight up physiological functioning of trans people’s genitals and bodies is not the same as cis people of their assigned sex. We respond differently to different kinds of sensations, different kinds of touch. Our orgasms are very different. Trans women, including pre-op, non-op and post-op trans women, are often multi-orgasmic. There are things that will get a non/pre-op trans woman off (and that will very, very much be enjoyed) that would probably just freak out, or even be painful, to a cis man, and likewise there are things that get off cis men that will just be triggering or creepy or feel wrong or be anxiety-attack-inducing or just flat out boring to a trans woman. A post-op trans woman’s genitals will respond a lot more like a cis woman’s genitals than a trans woman’s penis responds like a cis man’s, but there’s still differences to take into consideration.
And of course, there are parts of the body that aren’t genitals at all. And one of the direct, most immediate effects of estradiol (and progesterone) is intensifying the erogenous potential of the rest of the body. Breasts and nipples, which for a trans women even just a few months into HRT, are exactly the same thing as a cis woman’s (even if, on average, a bit smaller), are only one of the most obvious parts of the body that have sexual potential. But every square inch of an endocrinologically female body can be stimulated during sex, and be part of that experience. Foreplay is a good thing, and there’s no reason to stop just because “proper” fucking has commenced. Male (or testosterone-driven) sexual desires and sensations are often condensed into that one singular point of the body, but that is not any more the case for trans women than it is for cis women.
These differences in physiological responsiveness that stem from having our bodies full of happy, magic girly hormones are, of course, intensified by the brain our bodies are attached to. Our desires, naturally, are different. For a long, long time I allowed myself to believe in the bunk, pseudo-scientific theory of “autogynephilia”, and I hurt and shamed myself as a result, as well as held back by transition (which is one of the reasons I have so much anger towards irresponsible, poorly-thought-out, cissexist theories of transgenderism and transsexuality. They cause real, actual harm), but it only took a very, very simple jump in how I framed my thinking on the matter in order to realize how incredibly stupid and biased that theory is. Of course a woman would desire, and fantasize about, having her breasts touched or her vagina stimulated. Of course. That’s just normal, basic, totally healthy female sexuality. Whether or not her anatomy happens to match her desires is a little bit beside the point (there are, for instance, undoubtedly cis women who’ve had mastectomies who still fantasize about having their breasts played with).
One of the saddest kinds of fucking in the world is where you know exactly what you want, and your body wants it to, and all the signals are being sent and screaming throughout your nervous system, but the configuration of your body just doesn’t match, and it just can’t happen. It’s also a good way to get injured. But ALL good sex, ALL efforts to best meet the desires and needs of everyone involved, requires work arounds. Negotiatons. Imagination. Communication.
None of this, of course, stops our partners, and often ourselves, from just going ahead and naively assuming everything will function as assumed anyway. I’m pretty sure the majority of androphilic trans women are familiar with That One Guy who once he gets your pants off just dives straight into you and starts (messily, aggressively) doing everything to you that he’s always wished someone would do to him, or that he’s coached from watching gay or “shemale” pornos. No, hold up big fella. I’m not a gay man. I’m not your daddy. Chill out. I’m a woman, and I would appreciate having my body treated as such.
Oh, but that bloody script. On some level, you’re still trying to play along to the unwritten, unspoken script. Still trying to do it right.
(to do it right, you kind of need to be totally abandon the notion that you can do it wrong)
(except for the consent thing, of course. Doing any kind of it without consent is VERY fucking wrong)
And I’m sure plenty of trans women, and possibly lots of trans women reading this, have done a lot of masturbating over the course of their lives without ever realizing they don’t have to do it the way cis guys do it, and that that silly little up-down on your shaft thing is not even REMOTELY the full extent of fun you’re able to have with a little bit of me-time at your disposal.
But we don’t know. No one ever tells us. There’s no manual. And it takes a special kind of person to explore a continent they never really had any idea was there. So I’d like us to start talking about it more. Talking about all the options, and beyond just the ones we know about, encouraging exploration.
For instance, there’s “muffing”. Muffing is using the inguinal canal (you know, the little diagonal canals to the sides of your testes that you use for tucking). You can sort of “penetrate” the inguinal canal with your finger and find a whole bunch of lovely sexually-charged, erogenous nerves to stimulate (pudendal, ilioinguinal, genitofemoral, inferior hypogastric plexus). It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s really, really quite lovely. It can also be done with a small, bullet vibrator which is, well… amazing.
There’s also your glans, the tip of your penis, which can be treated more or less exactly like one would treat a clitoris, and that involves a whole world of possibilities beyond just gripping the whole penis and stroking. Like that bullet vibrator I just mentioned. As well as perhaps one of those little Lelo ones (I like the “calypso” model). A vibrator can also be held against other nerves to stimulate them while you stimulate the glans. There’s your prostate, of course (which can be accessed in ways other than anally, as it happens) and your perineum, as just a couple examples.
And really, don’t forget about your breasts and nipples.
I kind of wish there was a manual. I’ve been thinking lately that some press should really, really, really put together an anthology of essays on trans women’s (or trans people’s) sexuality and sex, mostly with an eye towards basic pragmatism: just showing a range of options for what can be done, what’s out there. There is currently a very good zine, Fucking Trans Women, from which I took the title for this post, but not everyone has access to little indie DIY zines.
If any publishers are reading, I wouldn’t say no to editing such an anthology. Though I’m probably not the best girl for the job.
But any such book or zine, or even this blog post, can only scratch the surface of what’s possible. We’re all absolutely, completely individual, and we all are worlds unto ourselves, with entire unknown continents of pleasure waiting to be discovered. The most important thing is that we burn the script. Understand that our bodies and our desires are already well off the reservation, and that rather than representing confusion and being lost or exiled, this should represent to us all kinds of possibility. All it takes to build incredible intimacy, better sex than any sheltered, normative, privileged, Quaint (ain’t queer) is ever having, all it takes to flip the situation on its head and leave us immersed in an ocean of possibilities, is a little bit of imagination. A little bit of an adventurous spirit. And a little bit of talking, a bit of communication.
It’s a New World, sisters. Let’s go exploring!