More trans, less sexual

sex-blocksI’m not just writing this because I’m asexual. It’s a topic that’s been bothering me and others for a while, and that’s the sexualisation of transition.

I spoke to the wife of an old friend a couple of weeks ago, for the first time since I outed myself to her husband as transitioning (so it’s been 18 months since she and I last spoke). She was trying hard to say the right things, in spite of her being from a more “traditional” central European culture (although as an artist, she is more free-flowing than many of her compatriots, she’s still got some of her cultural habits running at full tilt). What really jolted me, though, was when she said “I bet you can’t wait to get out there and enjoy your new equipment!” I was too taken aback to respond to this, so I just left it hanging.

I and a number of my trans friends and acquaintances, and trans people written about in the press, are way too often on the receiving end of the assumption that our purpose in transitioning anatomically – whether through hormones or surgery – in some way has sex or sexuality as its primary motivation.

It’s hardly surprising, given how sex-obsessed the western world is. It sometimes seems as though pretty much anything at all that anyone does will be presumed by at least someone to be for “sexual gain”.

Sexuality and gender identity are discrete entities, which are intertwined with each other only in the same way that everything about each of us is intertwined with everything else about each of us.

I’m not putting myself through a 7-hour operation later this year in order to have penetrative sex… or any kind of sex at all. I acknowledge that though currently seeing myself as asexual, I have no idea what shape my sexuality will take, post-anatomical-transition, and I may well find myself interested in being sexual in company again one day. But none of my reasons for wanting to change my sexual anatomy are to do with sex. I felt completely at a loss to know how to convey that to my friend, over the phone like that.

I simply know what body I’m supposed to be in. I’m not in that body, and never will be, in this lifetime. But, like someone who’s lost a limb and wears a prosthesis, I want to look and function as much like I’m meant to as I can, because I want to be as much myself as I can, and I’ll take what I can get. That’s why I’ve gone through these 2 years of hovering in the void between anatomical genders – so that I can eventually arrive properly in my body, at last.

I suppose that even the language employed around gender and transition, that of primary and secondary sexual characteristics (meaning genitalia and breasts/chest, when discussing anatomical characteristics in typically binary terms), and that stupid word transsexual really don’t help with all this. And we’re stuck with that stupid word because someone earlier along the line assumed that gender dysphoria was a sexual aberration of some kind, which is how we ended up in the Psychiatric Disorders pigeonhole for so long.

And I feel nothing but encouragement for trans folk who are excitedly looking forward to going out there and trying out their new equipment in the sexual arena. Enjoy yourselves! I just wish I lived in a world where sex wasn’t assumed to be the bedrock of everything.

[written at 3 am, feeling insomaniacal and ranty…]


The wood between the worlds

the wood between the worldsHave you read the Narnia books? (Let’s draw a tasteful veil over the films, shall we? *shudder*)

Anyway… the last-but-one book in the Narnia series (at least, in publishing order, though it’s the earliest in terms of the Narnia universe) was The Magician’s Nephew, and is set at the very end of the Victorian era. Without wishing to give too much away, C.S. Lewis introduced the idea of a multiplicity of worlds rising, falling away, existing both apart and together. In this book, there is a place that the two children find themselves in called The Wood Between the Worlds – an in-between place from which you can get in and out of all the existing worlds.

There’s a concept from Tibetan Buddhism called the bardo – it means something like “intermediate state”, though I’m trying to avoid the word state, because to me, it feels more true to see life as a constantly shifting set of interwoven conditions, rather than as a series of discrete “states”.

Many Buddhists, me included, are very interested in this bardo business (not all Buddhists see things this way). The tendency to see things in terms of states is a function of feeling more safe and secure when things don’t change, and when you know what’s what and it’s all predictable. But we all know life isn’t really like that (or why would we keep longing for it to be so?) But no, I think the more real, alive version of life is the one in the cracks in between our fixed ideas of who we are, and who everybody else is, and what’s what. All that “fixed reality” is just like mud drying on the back of a hippopotamus (seriously? just go with it…)

Anyway, this all feels very relevant to my life at the moment. Why? Because I’m in between just about every damn thing.

As someone who’s about three quarters of the way through a gender transition, I’m “in between genders” until my body is finally congruent with my sense of gender identity.

As someone who is gender non-binary, I am, from the perspective of most of the Western world at any rate, firmly “in between genders” because I am neither fully woman nor fully man, and never was nor will be so (nor wish to be so).

As someone who is a member of a Buddhist order that works in a very gender-binary way (though at least we accord equal status to both women and men, for a change), I am “in between genders” in the sense that I no longer feel at all comfortable attending events for men (and I’m not all that at ease around men in general, since they’re not all that at ease around me while I’m transitioning) – and yet I’m not yet welcome at the women’s events, because there are enough women (and I totally understand this) who don’t feel safe around people with man-parts, and I’m yet to receive my treatment for PPS (Persistent Penis Syndrome).

This all leaves me very in-between, and in the bardo. Add to this not being able to do paid work, since my PTSD makes me not reliable enough for that. Add to that my damaged urethra, for which I’m awaiting reconstructive surgery, which leaves me hovering between health and illness (and taking strong painkillers just to be able to sit down for long enough to type this).

Right now, I’m not in control of many of the important external circumstances that affect me (okay, that sounds terribly First World Problems when I read it back, since I have shelter and clothing and relative human safety, but again, just go with it…). I’m waiting to hear when I’m going to get surgery – since it’s possible they may want to do the urethral reconstruction and my gender confirmation surgery at the same time, to save me unnecessary surgical invasion. People somewhere are slowly deliberating over who is going to perform what surgery on me when, and where.

So I feel very much in the wood between the worlds. But there’s a big difference, because in the Narnia version at least, nothing at all happens there. Whereas for me, all the most important things are happening whilst stuck in between Things Happening in the external world. What I mean is that, forced to just be with myself whilst not knowing what’s going to happen and when I’m going to get to be who, I’m finding myself blossoming out within the void. There’s a me in the uncertainty, and she’s actually enjoying the uncertainty, finding it refreshing and spacious. Okay, sometimes it’s just scary and frustrating and demands application of chocolate and DVDs, but within that is something that feels really healthy, for a change.


[above, Pauline Baines’ illustration of The Wood Between the Worlds – below, a fox in the grass, sort of how I feel at the moment…]


fractalBy the gods… Romans everywhere! Legions within legions… We are doomed!!

Um, no, seriously, this isn’t about Romans.

[Trigger alert: this blog-thing will be about sexual abuse, amongst other things]

Hello. It’s been a little while, as I’ve been busy sorting some things out. So… no Romans, I’m afraid, though that would have been fun, in a bronzy, leathery sort of way. No, this is about romance. Specifically, it’s about (cutting to the chase) me trying to work out why I seem to be in love with being in love (hence the memeish title… for which pandering to modernity I deeply apologise…)

Yes, this is going to be pretty personal, but I’m really onto something here, and it helps to write these things out, and well, here we are. What is it that makes me think I’m in love with being in love? Well, a comprehensive list of the people I’ve been properly in love with over the last, erm, lots of years, comes to 80. To be fair, only about half a dozen of those were the true, full-on, this is going to make me die! kind of being in love. But the rest weren’t just “people I fancied”, they were pretty full-on experiences in their own right.

And most of these were unrequited, too, of course. In fact, only 8 of them have been requited, and they were all women (iiiinterestingggg…). Oh, did I mention that the figures come down pretty much even between women and men? They do. And there was actually one perhaps-requited on the men side of the list, since I think we were both too scared to tell each other. And of course, there are a number of people on both sides of the list whom I never told, so maybe it was requited after all, since they never told me anything either. And only one of those Death-Or-Glory Half-Dozen was ever requited.

I’m aware, by the way, of using very gender-binary language here. There are more recent people on this list who are only nominally on one side or the other – or are in fact neither. And I have no actual idea what a lot of these people’s gender identities were in my more distant past. Hence I think of myself these days as polyromantic, as well as polysensual.

Okay then, that’s the embarrassing part of the disclosure out of the way (really 80? really 80). What I’ve been asking myself is: Why do I keep falling for people in this way, and why is it so rarely requited? Well, the thing is…

I think that as a consequence of being sexual abused by my parents, I’ve spent my life very carefully falling for people who are not available, or not mutually attracted. Because it’s safest that way. The few times I’ve ended up in sexual relationships (because that’s what I thought I was looking for), it’s been terrible, because I get scared and angry when I’m sexual.

That explains some of it, but there’s more going on. While I’ve been trying to figure all this out, my teens have been very much on my mind. I spent almost my entire teenage years without having physical contact with anyone, and I think I did that on purpose, because it didn’t feel safe. Then when I was 17, my life changed as a result of meeting someone who’s now my oldest friend, and through him. a crowd of local hippy types that I fell in with – and all of a sudden I had a social life, and friends, and was (within that particular subculture, at least) for the first time in my life, somehow cool.

And then the bomb dropped. My friend’s sister gave me a hug, and I immediately fell in love with her, and I added to the hardship in her life for several months (she was busy dealing with anorexia) until I let go of the infatuation part, and we managed to become proper, loving friends. She was the first person I ever really loved, and she died in a fire, aged 17, three years after we met.

I think I keep on looking for that safe love. And it’s possible, now that I’ve realised I’m essentially asexual, that I’ll eventually find it with somebody similarly asexual – because that’s what it would take.

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still unsure about posting it; but it feels significant to me, for other people living with the consequences of abuse, to tell this story.

Since I’ve come to terms with my asexuality, and more recently since I’ve begun making more sense of this romantic compulsion I seem to have, I’ve been able to sit more lightly to it. It’s not like the habit of a lifetime is going to stop all of a sudden. It happened to me only yesterday, and that after I’d been joking that it was one of the things I’d have to watch out for yesterday… I spent the afternoon doing improvisational harmony singing with some other women in a house in the country, and I fell for one of them. Gorgeous, Canadian, musical, lesbian, happily committed to someone already. So it goes.

I know that singing makes me very open emotionally, so I was prepared for the possibility of falling for someone (it’s happened this way before – I met my friend-belovèd at a singing workshop, and fell for her in exactly the same way, though way worse… and now we’re great friends). So I’m feeling the sadness of this, but at the same time I’m able to feel a gentle smiling compassion for this part of me that just wants safe intimacy with someone, and has been too scared to ask for it in the past, and has ended up with unsafe intimacy (or none) instead.

The one thing that gives me more satisfaction than almost anything, lately, is the knowledge that I’m now someone who knows what she wants, and is able to say it out loud, and even to ask for it. I don’t always get what I want, but it’s very satisfying nevertheless to ask. And often, I do get what I want. Or I get what I need. Often enough. Everything the collective that is me has done in this life has been worth it, just to get to this point.

Oh, what the fuck, we all deserve this to end with…