CW: Sex, Gender Dysphoria, Body Dysphoria
I was ten years old when I first came to the realization that sexual intimacy, or the way it had been portrayed to me through popular media outlets and art forms, would never be something I could fully possess.
Sitting on the gold couch, my grandfather on the red spinning chair nearer the TV, it smelled like mothballs and unbearable tension as an intimate scene from the movie Daredevil played out on the screen. In that moment we both became witness to an incredible bond between two characters as they traced the scars of each others chest, back, and arms.
I tried my best to casually stand up and leave the room as something began pushing up through my throat. When I reached the bathroom, I locked the door and immediately turned to look at myself in the mirror. Standing there, I understood my body as one that could never be the recipient of such tender care, not only because no one would want to trace my outline, but because my body—and my whole self—was undeserving.
At ten this is a really shitty thing to realize. Now, it’s a really shitty thing to deconstruct and work through.
When I first came out to my mom as some variation of trans masculine, it was midnight on my back porch. I was sixteen at the time and for six years I had clearly understood myself and my body as unlovable. To me, I was a person whose scars were never meant to be traced with such a level of gentleness. Since then I have come out to her as a multitude of different masculinely centered identities, and each time I have been privileged enough to be greeted with my mother’s curious and strong arms.
However, regardless of the warmth that the bodies of my friends and families emanated while taking in my identity, and regardless of the immense amount of support they have managed to provide me with, I still find myself struggling with general conceptions about my gender, and in particular, its relationship to my body.
While I have always been able to understand and conceptualize the colonial and dominance-oriented origins of gender and its relation to the body, when it comes to changing in front of my friends, taking showers, or in the case of this essay, having sex, I find conceptualization isn’t enough.
When I was seventeen I had sex for the first time. With the passion I picked up from Daredevil filling every vein inside of me, I kissed down her body—her completely naked, me fully clothed.
The night was filled with sautéed green peas and pasta, Wonderwall sung around campfires, and late night hushpuppy pick ups from Cookout (which sounds like a movie in itself to say the least). However, something more than the inexcusable disappointment most people feel after their first time engaging sexually with someone penetrated my body.
It became clear that something was generally missing.
This lack continued beyond my first experience and into my general sex life. Rather than an act that developed an intimate connection between me and my partner, sex was something that I would do to people and in which I performed as a necessary, but replaceable actor.
Regardless of the intimate connections I developed with the people who I slept with, as a result of my own relationship with my body and my conceptions of its worth, sex became almost exclusively about what I could do for the other person—about their emotional vulnerability and my ability to hold that gently, alongside their physical pleasure—rather than the intimate exchange of physical and emotional connection that I needed and still need to define the type of sex I engage in.
To say the least, a certain level of desperation makes itself present when something that everyone else finds pleasure in becomes a space of extreme contention, sadness, and pervasive confusion for you.
There weren’t many places for me to look, and when I did search online forums and speak with other trans people who are sexually active, I got the same valuable advice that, at the time, was useless for me.
Most of the conversations regarding trans identity and sex center themselves in a disassociation, in the best sense of the word, from the body. These conversations encourage the application of theoreticaland very real, understandings of gender to the personal life; something that I was not in the space to do at that time and a space that many trans people never find themselves able to occupy.
So I searched more, and often times, based in my own confusion regarding intimacy and sex, I lashed out, making inappropriate, disrespectful, and inexcusable references to my partners and my general sex life.
After a while, and a lot of pushing from friends and my internal self, I understood it was time to grow.
I attempted to engage in conversations with myself, my friends, and my partners about the emotions I experienced regarding my personal position in sex, however, I found that I never had the means to articulate exactly what it was that I wanted or exactly what they could do to make the experience more pleasurable and fulfilling for me.
This made things more frustrating, to say the least. Without any words to express what it was I was feeling and what it was that I needed, I became more dysphoric.
However, I continued to attempt to have conversations and challenge myself to understand exactly what it was that made me feel so unfit to receive comfort and love from my partners no matter how much I trusted them. In fact, I have been attempting to write this article for two years as a means of exploring exactly what has continued this contentious relationship that I have with my body for so long.
It wasn’t until very recently that I listened to my body, let go, and trusted myself and my intellectual and ultimately truthful understandings of my gender. In the moment, the conversations I had with my friends, myself, and my partners began to make sense, and I was able to reflect on my personal approach to sexual intimacy and understand the ways in which this specifically combatted the warmth I was so intensely searching for.
Since this realization, I have actively attempted to approach sex through a framework of multi-faceted and individually constructed expressions of intimacy and vulnerability. This has helped me come to understand the revolutionary implications of developing a sex, an intimacy, and a vulnerability that redefines sexual intimacy as fluid and recognizes my body andmy self as worthy of pleasure.
This radical reformation and redefinition of my personal sexual politics has helped me reconsider the space I have granted myself worthy of occupying, and whether this is too much in some instances and too little in others. This revaluation of the qualifications of sex, sexiness, and sexual intimacy has also helped me to reconsider pleasure in my own life and feel less alienated from my partners in a space that tends to bring them so much closer to me.
While, my relationship with my body is still, and will always be, a contentious one, I have learned to grant my body access to moments of extreme and unparalleled existence—pushing the part of my mind that complicates my body’s relationship to the space it occupies out of the picture momentarily.
Through this communication with myself—this growing into myself—I have felt more truthful and learned that it is okay that my version of intimacy does not replicate the same sort of scar-tracing I had learned to equate post-sex and post-pleasure gentleness and closeness with.