Monthly Archives: November 2015

Comment: On Words and Assignment

Words are political, there’s no way around this. Unless you’re inventing language on the spot, every time you open your mouth you have to accept that that with the noises your making comes centuries of meaning, use, and history. Try as you may, it’s inescapable even if your intention is not to offend or harken back to historical use.

Because of this, writing articles about trans identity can be difficult. It’s hard to talk about ourselves when so many of the words we use have been used against us by cis people. Language can be a tool of oppression and, for our community, this was often the case. The slurs that have been used against us are obviously terrible, but even cis individuals in the medical community, masquerading as allies or friends, have been equally as shitty and oppressive. Understandably, the majority of the trans community has been pushing hard to move away from these terms, whether slurs or “science”.

While writing about masturbation, the word choices became the hardest part of writing the article. I had conversations with individuals from a very specific subset of the trans community, all with similar genitals, but with different gender identities. To lump them all in the same category would be doing a violent disservice to them, however, to not be able to specify that only certain people were willing to talk to me would also let down the strength of the article. Because of this I made a compromise and used two acronyms that are not without controversy in the trans community: assigned male at birth (amab), and assigned female at birth (afab).

The problem with these terms will be immediately apparent to a large number of trans people but in essence they combine three things I hate: shitty science, assumptions of sex based on genitals, and terms cis people appropriate for us. It is, in essence, the most politically correct way to say “birth sex”, while still being used to justify cis oppression, bigotry, and ignorance. It may be a softer way to say something incredibly shitty, but it’s still saying something incredibly shitty with all the garbage history that terms like “birth sex” and “x-to-x” bring.

That’s not the whole story though, there is a second meaning to unpack. When I first heard amab and afab a few years ago, I heard it as a term trans people were using to describe themselves. In this context it was often used in a more self-deprecating manner. Assignment is dehumanizing, to tell someone they’re something they don’t identify as, against their will, is violent. Assignment is patronizing, unnecessary, is used as a gate-keeping tool, and is a huge hassle to change. When applied to ourselves, it serves as a little tongue in cheek reminder that the our doctors made a mistake we’ll spend the majority of our adult lives correcting, that cisnormativity is pervasive, and that the social construction of sex is a reality.

Obviously, these terms are now more centred around the former than the latter, but it is still something descriptive of a subset of the trans community that had a similar starting point while not explicitly connecting genitals to gender and assuming a similar experience. I reluctantly used these terms however, but with an addition. When my editor suggested using “Coercively” in front of amab or afab, I immediately relished the thought. It was just icing on an already implied “fuck you” cake. Cis people could never re-appropriate the term without having to deal with the baggage calling themselves “coercive,” and implying that they too are continuing the violence.

Hence, I felt justified using those variations of assignment terms in my first article about masturbation. I just wanted to clear up any misgivings I had with the language used in the article and explain why I used the terms I used. As a writer I’m always keenly aware of the use of language and it’s implications, but I’m also aware that this explanation would have been ungainly or irrelevant in the article itself. There’s always the nagging through, every time I publish something, that would I have to mount a defence to justify my word choice. Nobody has actually called me on my shit yet, but I wanted to do good by my sources to pre-emptively publish an explanation as to why I used those particular terms to refer to them, while unpacking and discussing the particular language. My trepidation is always that my words will lead to eventually being ostracised, so I’d rather have a pre-emptive discussion than face a backlash.

To see the article this comment was following up, check out “Deviations in Masturbation in the Transgender Community”

To Those Unable to be With Their Family

I avoid my family because they are at best begrudgingly accepting of who I am, and always abusive and manipulative. I haven’t spent any holidays with them since 2013, by choice, because I don’t feel safe doing so.

Still, though, I find myself desiring the familiar; I find not being around large groups of people during holidays, as I was for the vast majority of my life, unsettling and lonely. I miss the company of the handful of people I trusted there. I occasionally miss my abuser during these periods, and that scares the fuck out of me. I especially miss playing with the younger kids during the holidays.

To those who are unable to be with their family during the holidays because they are unaccepting of who you are, they are abusive and you had to leave to be safe, or any other reason:

You deserve companionship. You deserve to be surrounded by people that care about you, every time of year. You deserve to spend the holidays with those who are dearest to you. You are worthy. You are loved. You are important. Please don’t ever forget that.

There are people who care about you. There are people who want to be with you. You may be separated from them by distances you can’t close right now — cities, states, countries, continents, oceans — but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

It’s rough as hell, sometimes, but please take care of yourselves. You deserve that, too.

Deviations in Masturbation in the Transgender Community

This time around I want to talk about something taboo, but something that we should be sitting down to discuss. It’s something that most of us have done, and continue to do. Something that alleviates a lot of pressure and (hopefully) gives us pleasure. I’m talking of course about masturbation.

This topic is not an easy topic to tackle, it is a controversial topic with a lot of variation but even more misconceptions and assumptions. There’s a lot of aversion to this topic, it’s immensely personal, and it may provoke feeling of disgust in other individuals. It’s been highly politicized by religions, scarcely talked about in the education system, shown for humour in early 2000s frat-boy comedies. There’s way too much baggage to unpack.

But as a trans woman, it is one of the ways I experience my changing body. It is something that has certainly been affected by hormone replacement therapy but also something that was abnormal long before I came out. Human sexuality, as a whole, has been of great interest to me for a while and this is one of the many facets of sexuality that I’m interested in.

It’s also another area where I want to see the assumptions of cisnormativity destroyed. The large problem I have with these assumptions is that it assumes one masturbates a similar way given the same genitals, a wrong headed assumption that is basically biological determinism for sexuality. Cis people assume that because some trans women and cis men share the same genitalia, that they operate the same, that these two groups masturbate the same. This myth is perpetuated by the porn industry as well as ignorant cis individuals and basically treats both groups as “dick-centric tops”. While this has lessened in recent years thanks to the work of trans femme porn stars, such as Chelsea Poe and Zinnia Jones, many cis people still don’t understand trans sexuality.

Hence, I wanted to use this article to sit down and have a discussion about my sexuality and the sexuality of other pre-operative and non-operative coercively-assigned-male-at-birth (CMAB) transgender, nonbinary, and genderfluid individuals as it relates to our masturbation techniques, how we differ from cis norms, and how masturbation affects how we conceptualize our body.

Methods and Ethics

To accomplish this, I didn’t simply want to get on my soapbox and expound on end about how I touch myself, I wanted to talk to others like me and get a general feel for how we all differ. To this end, I talked to 6 individuals candidly, via direct message on twitter, and asked roughly the same informal interview questions. I’ve never really liked using a formal script, because the answers can feel forced or devoid of subjectivity, thus a more organic, conversational approach was used.

When I put out my request for individuals to talk to about this subject, I received very few responses initially. It took a few requests on twitter, and through contacts, to find individuals willing to talk about this subject. Because of that, the sample size is incredibly small. If I cast a net of about 1500-2000 users, by best guesstimate, receiving only 6 responses from individuals willing to speak to me is slightly worrying. This could speak to how sensitive the topic is to individuals. Given how only two users were willing to put their name on record, this is an easy conclusion to make. Essentially, you’re trusting very personal information to someone who wants to publish this information publicly, and hoping that what you’ve committed to record does not affect you negatively. The sample size is small because the stakes are high.

However, sample size is somewhat a moot point as the purpose of the article is to get a snapshot and start discussion, rather than research behaviours patterns in trans individuals. That type of research would require more time, a larger sample, and probably the backing of an institution that could assure anonymity is maintained and everything is ethical. That’s not to say that I’m not acting towards the best interests of my sources, it’s just that when it’s a writer researching these kind of topics alone, there’s a higher degree of risk.

Trans Identity and Masturbation

Frequency

Of the 6 people I’ve interviewed, I must say that each individual had surprisingly different answers to every question. When asked how often they masturbate, the responses varied. Overall the range was large, between a couple times a day, and a fortnight. However, most reported masturbating at least every other day. Whether the individual was on HRT or not seemed to have very little affect on their masturbation, and everyone interviewed still actively masturbated. However, this could be a slight misrepresentation as I did put out the call for people who wanted to talk about this subject.

Techniques

Importantly, each individual approached self-pleasure in different way and used a variety of techniques to achieve pleasure. One anonymous interviewee reported tickling the underside of her penis head, remarking that it “Actually just fucking tickles a lot. Too much to do more than a a little bit at a time.” She also noted that this was a very mood specific thing, and it had to “strike her.” Bug detailed that xe uses petting, a technique xe stumbled upon as a teen in the shower, as water hit a “particular spot.” Several individuals do report using the “rub and tug” technique, but this is often complimentary to other methods or in absence of certain external criteria.

In addition to these techniques, several of the individuals report anal, prostate, and perineum play. Hailey, for instance, fingered her asshole, but did stipulate that most of that play occurs during bathtime because it’s cleaner. Others find pleasure a bit higher up. Kitty uses a vibrator on her perineum, as it gives her the sensation of a phantom vagina. She also uses her vibrator to stimulate her prostate anally. Similarly, Robyn reported using her vibrator on her perineum while also engaging in anal play, but stated that she had to be in the mood.

Toys and other apparatus factor a great deal into how we masturbate. As mentioned before Kitty and Robyn play with vibrators, but most respondents mentioned at least some kind of toy play. However, a lot of the reported experiences were with make due “toys.” Zoey mentioned having a large old cellphone that “vibrates like a beast” which she likes to put where “the opening for a vagina would be.” In college, Hailey used to use a vibrating razor handle as a vibrator in the shower. She states, “It was a small handle that I wrapped in duct tape and a condom, and hit the on switch. Felt pretty good. And that was before I realized I was trans!” The use of items in play is not limited simply to objects that vibrate either. Bug reported using clothing, and plush toys, to help xem heavy pet. Xe also does this with a partial tuck because “It sometimes helps because, often, I’m visualizing having different parts.” Lastly, both an anonymous respondent and Kitty reported using nipple clamps as a means of heightening the pleasure.

Self-conceptualization

As alluded to above, some of the respondents felt that how they masturbate greatly affected how they see themselves and how they connect to their body. Concerning the nipple clamps, an anonymous respondent said: “I always clamp my nipples with something because it makes me feel better about my breasts, even though I don’t quite *have* any.” Kitty stated that the way she masturbated was tied into her gender identity, and that masturbating from stroking can feel dysphoric. Because of that she mixes up erogenous zones. Robyn stated that the changes that came with HRT also changed her sexual experiences. “I don’t think about sex or masturbating as purely a penis thing, I have to be much more into it mentally and physically.”

In addition to changing conceptions regarding sex, in some cases these techniques helped the respondents to re-imagine their bodies. When asked if her gender identity affected the way she masturbated, Zoey said:

Well, yeah. I’d love to have a vagina and a penis (minus the two nuts they hang with). So… I mean, I’ve gone to some spectacular lengths to keep the phone vibrating while playing with the other bits. Cause it feels more fulfilling, or at least more exhausting in the “Oh my god I just came” way.

Zoey is not the only respondent who imagined fluidity or hybridity between genitalia, Bug described a similar scenario. “It’s probably more often than not that I imagine having clitoris/vagina, and then sometimes i’ll also have a penis.” Lastly, Kitty’s masturbation was also largely affected by how she imagined her body. “I go back and forth between feeling a phantom sensation of a vagina (occasionally very strong) and just accepting my cock, that tends to dictate whether I spend more or less time rubbing and fingering myself as though a vagina is there.”

Not all respondents reported a connection however. Hailey stated that she felt no connection between her gender identity and how she masturbates. “… I am not particularly bothered by my cock. I recognize my ass is just that: an ass. Unless I underwent GRS of some kind, I’ll never have a vagina. It would be nice to have, but I also have accepted my body for what it is.”

Quality of Orgasm

The final thing of note is how techniques and conceptualization can have an affect on how satisfying the orgasm is. I asked the respondents if their gender identity (and self image) had any effect on the quality of their orgasm. As mentioned above, Kitty feels that mixing up her erogenous zones can help her hate her body less and make the orgasm feel better. Zoey reported that sometimes her identity would have an effect on her orgasm and sometimes it would not. Robyn said, “Yes, it’s not so much about cumming anymore. It’s about enjoying the experience and even teasing myself after I’ve cum and enjoying the hyper sensitivity. Sometimes I can’t even tell when I’ve cum because the whole thing can feel like cumming if I have the magic wand in the right spot.”

Discussion

Going into the interviews, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had a, frankly misguided, hunch that because my friend and I masturbated completely differently that perhaps the rest of the community had similar experiences. What I got out of the interviews exceeded expectations. I genuinely did not know how different my 6 interviewees would be in how they masturbate and while there are some similarities between them in body conceptualizations, the means were all very different.

It was important to me to have incredibly candid conversations with individuals about our sexuality, about what gets us off, about how we see ourselves, and how all of this interacts with our gender identities. It’s a very tough conversation to strike up, especially without any level of intimacy prior to having the conversation. Learning about someone’s inner most kinks, desires, and their feeling towards their bodies, is something I will never take for granted.

In the case of most respondents, it was evident that how they masturbated was affected by how they saw their body, as well as aversion to certain elements of their body. This ranged from dysphoria and loss of concentration while orgasming, to intense orgasms. Even in the cases of dysphoria, no respondents ever stated outright that masturbation was a chore. This was something that respondents did willingly in most cases. Although, this is a tough question to ask, so the respondents could very well see it as a chore or a nuisance sometimes and perhaps didn’t mention that to me in the interview.

If there’s a takeaway from this article, from this experience, it’s the complexity of imagining and enjoying your body with a fluid gender identity, or genitals that do not match your gender identity. As someone who is fine either way, I found the notion of stimulating a phantom vagina to be fascinating and interesting. This is something I’ve never thought much about, I make due with my muff and anus in most cases, but a few of the respondents prompted me to consider this. Similarly, imagining and preferring a body with both a penis and a vagina must be difficult, however, it also makes a lot of sense when you begin to think about fluid identity and what that entails.

Conclusion

By interviewing CAMAB transgender, nonbinary, and genderfluid individuals, it’s obvious to me that masturbation is another instance where trans individuals deviate from cis-norms. However, this deviation helps us to understand, imagine, and enjoy our bodies more appropriately to our gender identity. The various techniques we use, the areas we stimulate, are all affected by our concept of gender identity but also may inform that identity as we explore what “feels good.” Since so much of human sexuality is tied into cisgender norms, it is important for trans people to break those norms and establish sexuality of their own. However, there is still a great deal of taboo regarding masturbation and until we can eliminate the taboo, there will still be a great deal of misconceptions regarding masturbation both outside of the trans community and within it.

This discussion then, should serve as a reminder that we are all different, that we think about our bodies differently, and that even though we’re a community it’s more of a mosaic than it is a homogenous blob. It should also serve as an example to individuals discovering their identity for the first time. Try some of the things outlined in the article, see which ones work for you and which ones do not. Masturbation may still be seen as a very personal thing, a journey of body discovery, but it’s a path heavily trodden by individuals just like you.

Admittedly this article is limited by it’s sample. It’s lacks representation from post-op trans women, individuals coercively assigned female at birth (CAFAB), and intersex individuals. I did not seek individuals to interview, but rather, posted on twitter and interviewed only people absolutely willing to talk to me. Perhaps the masturbation techniques of CAFAB trans men, non-binary, and gender fluid individuals could be explored in a future article provided I could find individuals to interview.

The Dead and Missing in the Trans Community

Content Notice: This article discusses murders and suicides of nonbinary, transgender, and gender nonconforming people.

Today, November 20th 2015, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s one of those days I wish didn’t need, you know, its own day.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance memorializes those who have been murdered as a result of hatred or prejudice against transgender and gender nonconforming people. According to the Trans Murder Monitoring TDoR 2015 Update, there have been 271 trans people murdered this year. That’s an average of approximately one trans person every twenty-eight hours.

That information alone should be horrifying to anyone who reads it, but I also wish to talk about something I have mentioned on Twitter many times: nonbinary and transgender people who have died by suicide or gone missing.

The rate of death and people seeming to all but disappear among us is, frankly, horrifying. planettransgender.com collected a list of 27 trans people who died by suicide this year, and I know of ten not on that list. There are also those who simply disappear — either they die and nobody hears of it, or they intentionally hide themselves in an attempt to regain safety. I was unable to find any proper statistics on this sort of thing, but this year alone, 22 nonbinary and trans people I regularly interacted with have disappeared for at least the past two months. Many I only knew online either simply stopped using their public accounts or removed them entirely. One I knew in-person did the same, and has not been seen anywhere in months. A few told me they were planning to disappear, but explicitly refused to tell anybody where they were going or how to contact them.

And I cannot blame any of them. At all.

In a world where our very existence is vilified, and who we are is treated as justification to hate and abuse us, I can’t blame them. In a world where the day before Trans Day of Remembrance, reports came out of a trans woman found dead in a men’s prison, and that kind of thing has happened before, I can’t blame them. I only find myself able to blame those who vilify us, those who use who we are as justification to abuse us, and those who stay quiet while watching this happen.

When the only ones who reliably stay beside us are others who are similarly targeted, it is unsurprising that our progress moves slowly and is paid for with the lives and safety of those who are most vulnerable. Often, this is trans women of color.

Spend today quietly and attentively listening to the nonbinary, transgender, and gender nonconforming people around you. If you can, attend a vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. And, on this incredibly sad day, let’s remember not only those who had their lives taken from them, but also all of the people who are missing. There are so, so many people who should still be with us, but are now gone. Every one of them, and every one of us still around, is loved and important.
There is a list of vigils for the Transgender Day of Remembrance available on tdor.info. Note that some of them occur the weekend after the Transgender Day of Remembrance.