Trans women and sexual empowerment 

by Joanne von Spanien

So many complex feelings ‘bout this. So, I get rather angsty whenever the subject of female sexual empowerment is brought up. Considering, I’m a trans woman, so this sort of makes me feel like shit. What kind of woman feels bad about her own and her sisters’ sexual empowerment?

Long answer. For twenty-three years I tried, really tried to be a straight-ish boy. I gave it a go in every conceivable way. It never really worked out for me. So I’m transitioning and, yes, on the whole things are starting to work out much better.

But the thing is, before I began my transition I had no idea where I fit into cissexual, heterosexual (“normal”) human sexuality. Because I was an intellectual little nerd, I’d read about things like evolutionary psychology, which would almost bring me to tears because it seemed to imply that no one would ever love me. When I began seriously investigating gender nonconformity and then, several years later, transitioning, I encountered infamous sexist psychologists like Raymond Blanchard. I would again be brought to the brink of tears ‘cause I thought, well shit, no one is ever going to love me.

When I realized these psychologists were cissexist, homophobic morons I researched academic feminism. And I really realized that it’s quite ciscentric if not cissexist. It about empowering women sexually in all sorts of ways, but it never really spoke to me because, let’s face it, most trans women do have radically different histories than most cis women and don’t quite meet the girl requirements many feminist theories posit. Third time’s the charm. I was brought to the brink of tears because I thought, well shit, I guess I’ll never feel sexually empowered and whenever someone does love me I’ll just feel damn lucky, not like I’m living my sexual truth or self-actualizing through it.

Oh my. Internalized transphobia at its worst.

Nevertheless, there is one point that is correct. Trans people—men, women, non-binary people—will never be cis and that’s just something we have to deal with. Even trans women’s bottom surgery, which has made such huge strides, is just a cosmetic procedure. A surgeon once said, “No, you don’t understand. I don’t make female genitalia. I make male genitalia appear like female genitalia. Everything else is in the patient’s head.”

Now, let’s forgive this doctor his ciscentrism. It’s way more complex than he says because the sexual function of trans women’s genitals do change hugely through both hormones and surgery. But he does have a point: you will never be cis. If you’re a trans woman, while you are not biologically or mentally male, there’ll always be a few parts of you that are a little male-ish. Mutatis mutandis for trans men and non-binary trans folks.

And that in itself can be empowering if we embrace it. Heck yeah, I’m trans. Fuck yeah! It’s something I’m working on, but it’s hard. If I felt like a legitimate object of sexual and romantic desire it would be easier. Rather, I feel like before I was competing with masculine cis men, which made me miserable. I almost always just opted out. The few times I was in a relationship I had no idea how to act like a boy in those relationships. Now I’m quickly becoming a woman, which is an improvement in so many ways, but I suddenly feel like I’m competing with cis women. (Although the word compete feels patriarchal or male-centric somehow. Blah. Lack of good queer scientific terms). I feel like a less desirable or illegitimate object of desire. At worst, an interloper, but that’s a whole ‘nother bag-o-worms.

To sum up, I feel disenfranchised sexually. Like no one has ever spoken to my sexual empowerment.

And no matter how much we tell ourselves this is just internalized shit, it’s still shit that’s hard to shake off and takes time to work through.

-Joanne von Spanien