Landfall

love-spiralAll of my life, I have never had the experience of being in love with only one person.

There have always been at least two people in my romantic desire field, and sometimes as many as six. But everyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with before now (all of my previous relationships have been very monogamous) has been staunchly anti-polymory, and treated my feelings about it very unkindly. Being now, at last, in two relationships with people who are themselves poly, something just became obvious.

It has literally only just occurred to me that this “stay hidden or be chidden” experience of being polyamorous was just as much a contributor to my PTSS as transphobia and homophobia (and the abuse and bullying stuff) have been.

This is the first time in my life that I’m able to be fully “out” as being in love with more than one person, and to act on it, and to have them respond back wholeheartedly the same way, and it be accepted and rejoiced in by all of us – and I can tell I’m still wary and flinching, expecting anger and punishment for something that’s entirely normal and has always been a part of my experience. Again.

I name this tormentor: polyphobia. I have had partners in the past literally declare me mentally unwell for just having feelings for other people as well as them (even though I never acted on those feelings, having agreed/resigned to monogamy). The relief at being with people who just empathise with and affirm this experience brings up both joy and sorrow.

What a thing.

It’s reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago, which I think I already posted here at some point – but I’m going to do so again. This is for all of us who have been made to fear our true selves. We may look, and love, at last.

Mirror, Mirror

So there’s the great ocean there
And one day, you glance out
Out beyond the land
And you know something bad is coming

Gulls start from the waters, yarring
Bubbles and things rise, float
Stillish seas no longer still
Disturbed sun shatters in sparkles

Something huge
Something terrible
Long ago foretold, long feared
Rising from the very roots

Finally you glimpse it
Dark vast shape surging
Inescapable through the depths
The ocean dances and bows to it

And it breaks through the surface
Looming, menacing
Dripping, encrusted
And it looks at you

And looking into its eyes
You see your scared reflection
And then with fine cloth, and your warm breath
You gently begin to polish it

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Consensuality

I’m in two polyamorous romantic relationships (yay me! ahem…) They’re both asexual relationships, but until a month ago, only one of them was.

I finally summoned up the courage to tell the partner I’ve been reluctantly sexual with/for that I couldn’t be that any more. It wasn’t an easy conversation at first, though in the end they made their peace with it – because it had been on the cards since we first got together (I’d always told them I was essentially asexual).

But what clinched it, for both of us in a way, was that after we’d agreed to take sex off the menu at least for the moment, they suggested trying a role-play where they would ask me if I wanted to have sex later, so that I could experience saying no. And what we found was that even in that most supportive of contexts, I still almost can’t.

What I’ve come to realise as a consequence of that conversation is that I don’t think I’ve ever had consensual sex in my life – by which I mean that I can’t actually consent, because (as a consequence of an abusive childhood) in the moment I find it near impossible to withhold consent.

I’ve got no idea what this is going to mean in the long run, but right now it’s very, very liberating to acknowledge that this is a true thing about me, and to have immediate, direct experience to back it up (for those times when I might turn up the self-doubt to 11).

And it’s freed me up into sensuality. I mean, I’ve already been describing myself for a few years as asexual and polysensual – but knowing that the person I’m being sensual with knows that from me, it’s absolutely not going to be foreplay, makes me feel way more safe to express my passionate self sensually instead. 

I still experience a lot of confusion. Being part of a very sexualised society, and having had a very sexualised childhood too, some part of me is strongly inclined to interpret physical intimacy through a sexual lens; I also have a body that does sexual response, though I’ve no desire to act on that. But this is a confusion I understand well enough not to be distressed by it. I’m embracing my consensuality now… 🙂 

Half? Huh?

Well, hello. It’s been a long time.demistrawb

I’ve been busy fielding post-traumatic stress, having EMDR therapy. Oh, and recovering in turn from three bouts of surgery – my main Genital Upcycling Surgery last May, then a failed attempt in July to correct a bad prolapse, and then a second more but not entirely successful attempt to do the same this February past. I’m a little fed up with being sore and incapacitated, to be honest, and rather isolated by my distance from most of my people I care about. I’m looking forward to a time when I’m healed and not awaiting further surgery and can just get on with life. But meanwhile…

I’ve been thinking about my sexuality. For the last year or so, I’ve been identifying my experience as asexuality. People who police asexuality have “encouraged” me to call myself grey-ace, because I do experience sexual attraction, but I have no libido to go with it, and no desire to act on it. Or so I thought.

I’ve recently been having the kind of desire I thought I didn’t have, towards someone I’ve become involved in an asexual romance with. This has caused me to revisit the rich smorgasbord of [a]sexuality labels, to see whether any of them are a better fit now.

Once again, I’ve come across demisexual, and been bothered by it on both a gut and logical level. So I thought I’d have a crack at writing about it here to sort out in my head why the term bothers me.

Now then. Of course it’s already not as simple as all that, because I’m also romantically involved with someone else (because Polyamory) with whom I’m, well, reluctantly sexual on their behalf. To this plot twist, we shall return…

Most definitions of demisexual that I’ve found seem to revolve pretty much around two criteria:
• someone who’s demisexual being/feeling sexual only in the context of a romantic or otherwise intimate relationship, and
• said sexual response being “secondary”, i.e. only responding to the other person’s desire rather than primarily to one’s own.

As someone who’s in the polyamorous situation that I am, this raises an interesting question about sexuality labels in the first place, that has always bothered me. My basic assumption around sexual orientation, for example, has always been that it operates on a person-by-person basis, even if we have tendencies in certain directions. You respond to each person differently. And it seems the same for me around sexuality in general.

I’m in two romantic relationships. In one I’m definitely demisexual according to the aforementioned pair of criteria, but in the other… I’m something else. Because in the other, I’m definitely having a primary sexual response (and have no idea yet whether that’s reciprocated in any way, or whether either/both of us would want to act on that if it were).

So I’m demisexual with one person, and I’m… what? with the other. I’ve decided I need a new label. Heh, this is why there are so many already – because one size never fits all.

What defines my sexuality? That, regardless of whether it’s primary or secondary, for me it only exists in the context of romance. So here’s my shiny new label: pyladeasexual. Pyladea- is a Latin stem meaning simply “romantic”. That works. I’m only sexual (or feel sexual) with people I’m in love with, and sometimes it’s because they want it, and sometimes it’s because I do. Either way, it’s a tricky and tentative business, because abuse history, and because it’s likely I’m also on the Asperger’s spectrum, and for both those reasons have strong responses to physical intimacy.

Stepping back wider than my own stuff, though, there’s a thing that bothers me about the definition of demisexual. Since part of the default definition is this “only in the context of a romantic or otherwise intimate relationship” clause, something doesn’t sit right about calling it demi-.

Does it mean that a secondary sexual response outside of such relationships makes you not demisexual? You never hear of (for example) someone who doesn’t have a primary sex urge, but is willing to be sexual only in casual situations, being described as demisexual.

This implies to me that even asexual/demisexual people treat “full” as opposed to “demi” sexuality as being synonymous with “is able to have casual sex”, which I suspect is a byproduct of our very sexualised society.

There, I’ve finally put my finger on what’s been bothering me – it’s a Golden Mean Fallacy. Buried in the generally accepted definition of demisexual is the assumption that not being up for casual sex is “halfway” between sexuality and asexuality. Pff… I’ll stick with calling myself pyladeasexual – “is sexual (or willing to be so) only where love is involved”.

More blathering from me soon, I hope. Happy Oestre… Oestre-hare

Abstention

[Trigger Warning: medical squicky stuff, sexual abuse references]

This may be uncomfortable reading, but it will be very honest. I’m currently on antibiotics that mess with my mood, so this may also be more dark than it’s meant to be. End of warning.

Three times a day, I have a routine to go through, post-surgery. This involves dilating my neovagina with a narrow stent (a.k.a. a dilator), and then a fatter one, for ten minutes each. The stent in this case is a clear, colourless plastic dildoid thing with a tapered front end, sort of like a giant blunt pencil.

There’s more to this: I have to get set up, which takes about ten minutes (sterile wipes, baby changing mat to lie on, bowl of warm water with antibacterial stuff in, towel, water-based gel, paper kitchen towels — then clean everywhere crotch-related, before dilation). Then after the dilating, I tidy up, and then douche with warm water with iodine stuff in it (after next week, this will just be warm water), clean the stents and douche, dry myself carefully. The whole thing takes about an hour. I listen to music on random shuffle whilst doing the dilating.

So that’s the practical aspect. What I wanted to write about here, though, is the emotional aspect.

It’s been hard to admit this to myself before yesterday, but going through this routine is quite distressing, and I feel resistance to doing it. Yes, this is just partly because I’m still very tired from the surgery, and it’s quite an effort to go through all this (which includes walking down and up a flight of stairs twice each time, as my bathroom is downstairs). But it’s also for two other reasons.

The first is that inserting a stent into what is still essentially a healing wound is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful — and is therefore an abuse penetration trigger. This is hard to bear. Since yesterday, when I let it be true and was lying here with my stent inserted, sobbing my heart out, I was able to embrace the experience, and say to myself “Know this: if you so desire, nobody else is ever going to penetrate you again, ever. This hole is not for that purpose, unless you choose it to be so at some point. That power is solely yours.” Since this, today dilation has been easier, something has shifted, I’m not fighting myself.

The second reason, though, is just plain sorrow. When I was in my teens, I read Triton by Samuel Delany, in which someone in the far future (and on the moon Triton, natch) goes through a complete male-to-female body change (including gene manipulation) in under half an hour, and walks out sore, but essentially completely healed. That’s always been my dream, I suppose, but what I’m going through is a much more involved and medicalised experience, with pain and slow healing. But the worst part, the saddest part, is that every time I dilate, I’m reminded that because of a quirk of fate and prenatal hormones (or whatever the fuck made this happen), here I am trying on a daily basis to persuade my body not to heal up this artificial hole that I’ve had to have sculpted, because my body came out wrong.

I have something which, a few months from now when all the mad swelling has gone down, will pretty closely resemble a vagina, and that’s amazing. But it’s also an artifice that in many ways will never behave like a real vagina, and my body will require (less and less constant, it’s true) persuasion for the rest of my life to keep it how it should be.

Let me be clear: I’m really happy to have this, my body feels much more congruous and complete than it ever has, but I’ll always have to live with that sorrow too. So it is. I expect as we become more accustomed to each other, and all the healing happens, and I can live more normally and not spend three hours of every day persuading my body not to reject its new configuration, I will feel much more ease around all this. I’ll probably eventually forget about it for stretches of time, and that’ll be good. I just want to honour, right now, what I’m feeling right now about it — because the Post-Op Transwoman Bible™ says Thou Shalt Only Be Seen To Rejoice, and I want all my voices to be heard.

Oh, and fuckin’ antibiotics, if I never have to take them again it’ll be too soon.

By the way, the stent is named after some dentist who invented them. I was expecting some connexion with Stentor, the mythical singer who died after losing a singing competition with Hermes. But I like that abstention has “stent” in it, since it reflects my inner desire to abstain from dilation, and my need to let these stentorian voices sing out and be appreciated.

It amazes and amazes me, how over and over I have to discover that so much of my experienced pain is coming from resisting being conscious of uncomfortable feelings, whether physical or emotional. Let’s be soft out there, folks.

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Endless

[Trigger Warning: there will be some surgical talk here!]

Well, three weeks ago, after a wait of around 30 years, I had my Genital Repurposing Surgery, as I’ve come to call it… I should explain (since this has already been misunderstood by one person) that by this I don’t mean “I intend to employ my genitalia for different sexual purposes now” — since this has never had anything to do with sex. What I mean is that no, my pre-existing genitalia were (mostly) not “cut off”, but simply repurposed — or, as I’m also enjoying saying: upcycled :D. Or in fact, to employ a fun meme, basically my penis got divided by zero…

I’ve been back home for two weeks now, and am slowly finding myself able to move around more — though walking feels like I’m waiting to give birth to a pangolin, it’s definitely doable in short bursts now. I’ve been a little unlucky with some popped sutures, which are going to make healing a slightly more lengthy and involved process, but on the whole I’ve come out if this very well so far. This is the part I’d been waiting for, really; as a non-gendered trans* female, dysphoria has always been about the anatomy for me, more than anything else.

There are a few things I’d like to say, at this point. Some gratitude stuff, for a start. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country where it’s legal to be trans*, where we have explicit rights, where our medical needs (if we have them, and within certain still rather gender-binary blinkers) are understood and met. My transition was paid for by the NHS, mostly, and that made it possible where it otherwise wouldn’t have been. This surgery took only 2 hours. Extraordinary — this makes it more ordinary, somehow, in a good way. So I’m very grateful to the surgeon and his crack team (heh) for keeping the whole thing as minimum-impact as possible, and to the nursing team who looked after me for the week afterwards, including through a tricky moment when things went a bit wrong.

What the hell, details: after one’s neovagina has been constructed, it is packed for a few days to let it “set” in its new shape, before being unpacked and then regularly dilated instead. For reasons nobody could understand (this had never happened before), my packing came out — so they had to repack it. If you want to know what that was like (I was conscious but on laughing gas for this), imagine trying to stuff a futon into a wine bottle. That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience.

Okay, you can uncross your legs now, no more medical detail. I’d just like to finish up the gratitude part by mentioning my fab girlfriend, who was with me when I had the surgery; my lovely visitors; my friend who drove me home after and stayed the night, and went shopping for me the next day. And myself: I spent two months before the surgery getting what exercise I could, and that’s been making a huge difference to how my recovery is going now, especially in terms if my core muscles.

So that’s all that. What I wanted to also write about, is what this does and doesn’t mean. In the minds of many people (including many trans* people), this must mean I’ve reached my goal, and it’s all over now. But I don’t consider my surgery to be the “end” of my transition. Actually, I have no idea when that will be, or even whether it will be. For a start, pragmatically I have major surgery to recover from, before my upcycled anatomy feels like simply a familiar part if me, rather than a medicalised and painful and puzzling new piece of kit. But seriously, I suspect I will spend the rest of my life still transitioning, discovering what difference this really makes to my experience of myself, and to other people’s experience of me too.

And there’s still way too much emphasis in trans* culture and in the media (and, I have to say, in the healthcare system too) on surgery being the City of Oz of transition. Listen: only some people who identify as trans* go through any obvious transition (and that need not cross any conventionally recognised sex/gender borders anyway), and only some people who transition want surgery to be part of that. I’m sick of the “hierarchy” of non-op < pre-op < post-op that you find on so many trans* forums, for example.

Oh, and I'm so tired of people (and once again, many of the culprits are in the healthcare posse) assuming that once I've recovered from surgery, I'll basically "get well sexually" and stop identifying as more or less asexual. Stop pathologising asexuality, it's so patronising! It's as bad as being a non-theist stuck among smug Christians.

So there it is: as part of my ongoing transition, I've had this surgery, and on it all still goes. Mainly, I look forward to being able to dance again, and releasing this pangolin into the wild.

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Iatrogenocide

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while (excuse the absence of apt and pretty pictures, I’m still flat on my back in hospital, writing this on a wee tablet thingy).

I had a very difficult three months earlier this year, and the fault lies largely at the feet of medication. I spent over a year on Tramadol (an opiate) for pain, whilst waiting for surgery to fix my dodgy urethra, and then spent two months at the start of this year coming off the Tramadol, post-surgery. That all went fine, until I actually stopped taking it altogether – at which point I spent a month having my body flail about uncontrollably every night, like a puppet with St Vitus’ Dance.

And then I was in the run-up to my genital upcycling surgery, and was anxious about getting anxious, since the Tramadol had actually helped with my PTSS symptoms, so I was persuaded to go onto Sertraline (aka Zoloft, Lustral). This is when the hell began. Two months of terror and anxiety and barely being able to go outside the flat. I assumed that this had been caused by a transphobic incident in the town where I live, so it took me two months to listen to my intuition and stop taking the Sertaline – at which point I got better practically overnight.

No more SSRIs for me.

*****

While I’m here, I’ll mention that I’m now halfway through the EMDR therapy (for my PTSS) that I spent 3 years trying to get access to – and it is so worth it. It’s been a very shamanic journey experience for me, and I’ve had some very powerful encounters – especially with the six-year-old girl me, who is ballsy as hell, and who publicly goes by the name Celestine (no kidding – but she has a secret name too).

*****

Anyway, here I am, flat on my back in hospital, and somewhere under all that swaddling is a set of female genitalia that I have yet to see. But my brain still thinks I have the Previous Occupant down there, so it’s going to be a fascinating opportunity to observe how the physical senses are mind-made (or mind-interpreted, anyway). I’ve had arousing thoughts a couple of times, just to see what that felt like, and my brain thinks I have a hard-on. Watch and learn, brain!

I give it three stars

with-themIn honour of [Inter]national Coming Out Day, which has just gone by, I’m going to out myself for the eighth time.

I’ll cut the preamble waffle I just wrote, and instead state baldly: I am polyamorous. I’ve tried to dodge it, or qualify it, or yes-but-only it… but I am it.

Polyamory means a lot of different things to different people. This is going to be about what it means to me.

I never really and truly came out to myself about this until last week, when I was attempting an exercise I read in the book Aspergirls, by Rudy Simone. She mentions in passing how she decided to write about her ideal partner as if she were already in a relationship with (in this case) him, describing his qualities and what he’s like to be with. And then two weeks after she did this, he popped up in her life out of nowhere, and is still (at time of her book going to press, at any rate) still there.

So I thought, What the hell, I thought. And I started writing my own version of this. Believe it or not, I was originally going to post it as a blog-thing here, before I realised how incredibly revealing and personal it was turning out to be. So you’re not seeing that! But the significant thing for me that I want to write about here is that my ideal partner is partners. Two of them.

I’ve alluded to this before, here, I think (I’ve written about an awful lot of stuff over the last year, and I’m stuffed full of opiates at the moment and can’t remember things I looked up five minutes ago, so if I’m really repeating myself, I’m just going to have to hope you don’t remember either…) Anyway…

Ever since I was about 11 or 12, I’ve had this sense that my ideal loving situation would be to be with two other people. Not in a series of connected relationships, but three people in one relationship, living together, loving together, sleeping together (sometimes, if that works). I remember dreaming about it from when I was that age. And then a few years after that, I started reading the novels of Samuel R Delany, an American SF novelist who was way ahead of his time in terms of exploring variations on The Normal when it came to society – in gender and gender-roles, in sexuality, in relationships.

I read his book Babel-17 and (now I know I’ve written about this before, but what the hell) it was like meeting myself, in some way. The thing I was resonating with so strongly was his description of a type of relationship his people in this novel called a triple. No specific permutation of sexes, the defining characteristic of a triple is that of three people in love with each other, committed to each other. That’s what I really want.

The idea of a triple isn’t mere fiction, a concept – there are plenty of loving triples out there, quietly getting on with their lives together. I have met one or two over the years, and I know of (and know) more through the internet, though none well.

I’ve always shied away from it. And more generally, I’ve always shied away from the fact of my polyamorous nature – probably for the same reasons I’ve shied away from most things that are about my true self, for decades, until in recent years I let go into myself at last. I was brought up to be certain that whatever I did, said, or thought/felt, there must be something wrong with it. This is not an easy infection to shake off, but I’m getting there.

There are, then, two important ways in which I am polyamorous. One of them is the above, and the other is that I’ve always been in love with several people at the same time. I have no idea what it’s like to be any other way. It’s so much a background radiation in my life that it just hasn’t occurred to me to mention it to people when I got involved with them – because up until now, I’d assumed I was content with one partner, and I generally have sort-of been – I would certainly never entertain trying to be with more than one person without everyone’s consent in any case, but it’s never arisen as an issue.

This has sometimes not been a problem at all. But a couple of times it’s been awful. Because for some people who are not polyamorous, there’s no distinction they can make in their minds between loving more than one person at once and “infidelity”. For them, it’s a simple equation: there’s x amount of love in you, and if you love two people, you’re never giving either of them x, so they’re short-changed in love, and you’re somehow cheating on everybody.

I’m pissed off about this. We’re in a culture that only invented Romantic Love less than 1,000 years ago as a Thing, decided it revolved around couples, decided that was somehow “holy”, and so any other permutation is somehow some combination of unhealthy and unholy. People who are not polyamorous are sometimes inclined to assume that polyamorous people have “commitment issues”, because the Normal, Healthy Thing™ is to fall for somebody to the exclusion of everyone else in the cosmos (Hugh Grant can’t be lying to us, right?).

On the other hand, I don’t go with the polyamorous people who think of themselves as “more evolved” than anyone who just falls for one person at a time – either extreme is elitist bolox, really.

But it is amusing (by way of childish revenge) to imagine a cosmos in which it’s the norm to love several people at once, whilst being with one or more partners – and in this cosmos, people who fall for just one other person to the exclusion of everyone else in the cosmos might be seen as infantile, as craving the undivided attention of a parent, as craving to be the very centre of someone else’s universe.

Of course neither is right, because there’s no one thing that’s Normal when it comes to love. You love who you love, willy nilly (soooo much more fun that writing “whether you like it or not”). Sure, there are people who are pathologically unable to make a loving commitment (whether to one or more people), just as there are people who are pathologically unable not to cling onto one other person so tightly that they suffocate.

But in moderation, all these things are normal.

And as a Buddhist, I’m inclined to see the idea of having just one soulmate as a really terrible waste of love, and a terrible invitation to the suffering that’s inherent in monomania. Of course, unrequited love for four people at the same time sucks to the power of… argh!! But I’d still rather that than no love.

I just wanted to get this off my chest today.

Oh, and cosmos, if you’re listening, I’d like to place a formal request:
Two lovely loving androgynous polyamorous partners, gender irrelevant, who love music and wordplay and beauty and dancing and singing and cats, and each other, and me.
[Click Here to Confirm Order]

*****

My title up there (as usual) is a pun of sorts. When I was at college, a lot of years ago, I fell in love with a Hungarian folk song called Ne Aludj El, and learned to sing it, without having any clue as to what it is about. It was only a few years ago, thanks to the internet, that I found a translation of the lyrics and discovered it’s a love song – or more accurately, an end-of-love song, since at the end of the song, the young wife says to her husband “Take back the ring you have given me – the diamond has gone cloudy…” (ouch). But at the beginning of the song, they’re compared to two stars. And I’d like two special stars in my life, though I have a vast galaxy of people that I love. I’d like to be part of a triangle constellation that lights up the night sky. And of course, I give us 3 stars out of 3. Top marks.

Here is that song, as I fell for it all those years ago, sung by Kolinda (I have, I hope, arranged for the track to start at the right place, for your enjoyment – but if this technology fails us, please go to 8:30 for the start of the song):

And here is a photo of Samuel Delany, in grateful thanks for a word for what I want to be a part of. And in awe of his charming smile and glorious imagination and prodigious beard.

samuel-delany