When I was at the Transgender Health Conference in Philadelphia in early June, there was one sex workshop that was particularly well-attended. Over a hundred people filled the hall. The four facilitators handed out pieces of paper and began the first exercise: Draw your naked body on a sheet of paper, then label your parts.
Easy enough, right?
I drew a simple figure, slightly more muscular than was accurate, with a stoic face and probably more hair than I can honestly claim anymore, and colored in my beard. I drew two scars across the chest, two nipples where mine were reattached. I labeled the upper part of my body… Pecs.
Then, dropping my gaze, I drew in a small bellybutton, and under that a tight, curly mess of hair. I considered my options and came to the conclusion that a minimalist approach was best. I labeled the lower part of my body… Down There.
It was at that exact moment that the facilitator walked by. As if stating the obvious, she reminded us to write down the words we prefer our sexual partners to use during sex. I looked down at my drawing again and re-evaluated my work. Then, pen in hand… I drew some boxers and a T-shirt – it felt drafty all of a sudden.
* * * *
As a transguy who’s experienced both sides of the fence, men and women view their private parts in very different ways. My friends and girlfriends have always used euphemisms like Hoo-Jack, Juice-Box and Hoo-Hoo to describe their nether regions. I knew a couple of women who used Vagina, but there was always something clinical, almost militant, about it: “This is my Vagina and that’s what I’m going to call it, and YOU SHOULD TOO.” Pussy and Cunt are words I can barely speak aloud , and by barely, I mean not at all. I hear those words and I see violence and I feel sick. When men say those words – and it seems that I hear men say them more than anyone else – I know they’re talking about a hole to be fucked, not a person, and certainly not a soft, delicate fold of skin above an entrance to someone’s secret palace…
(I am a writer and words are my refuge. But I am struck that I wax poetic about another’s body, but cannot label my own.)
I know other words for women’s parts, like Labia, Clitoris, Perenium, Anus… but they don’t feel very sexy. I do like the word Clit, it reminds me of a NYC club I used to frequent back in the 90’s. The Clit Club was the first place I could be open about my attraction to women, the place I could dance until 4am, a safe place. So Clit rolls off the tongue easy for me. And when I touch my partner’s clit, I feel an immense sense of power and responsibility and trust – her trust in me. We have trust, we have love, but not so many words.
But even before I transitioned at the age of 30, there were few, if any, words that women were using to talk intimately about themselves, and I, as a hard butch, felt uncomfortable with all of them. For my own body, I used terms devoid of sexuality like Groin, Crotch, and Down There.
And then when I transitioned? I’m still using words like Down There. I like to think I’m being mysterious, but I’m as mystified as anyone.
Cisgendered men are socialized differently. They grow up worshipping their cocks. Even if Penis sounds a tad anatomical, there’s still Cock, Dick, Balls, Asshole. Simple, effective, all words I could imagine myself using with another man without losing my hard-on
But I’m a transguy. I don’t have balls. I have a cock, sort of, but it’s not like the cocks I see when I’m up at midnight trying not to surf internet porn sites. Is my cock the part of my body that gets hard when I’m aroused or is it the dildo I strap on? In a moment of bravado, I can say to you: My cock’s better than those other ones – I come in different sizes, different colors, and I never get soft.
But take away my dildo and then what do I say?
* * * *
All through growing up I felt like I had an amputated cock. I could feel it, the way people who’ve lost legs or fingers talk about being able to feel their amputated limbs. But then when my clothes came off, it wouldn’t be there. For years, when I slept with women, I never let them touch me. When straight guys hit on me, I didn’t understand what they were doing, didn’t understand that they saw a female body, and landed myself in more than one dangerous situation because of it.
But then at the age of 30, I transitioned. I took hormones and I grew a little bit Down There. I know there are men who can look at their cocks, whatever their size, and say with pride: This is my cock! I am not that man, yet.
* * * *
I’m not uncomfortable talking about sex. I enjoy arguing for sexual freedom, talking about kinky and taboo acts, about different positions and techniques – I’m even the author of published erotica! But after more than 11 years with my partner, if she wants to know what to call this part of my body or that one as we’re having sex, I don’t know what to tell her.
I’m proud to be a transman. I have stood on both sides of the wall and I have seen the places in between. I feel a little like a lesser god, to have this intimate understanding of both men and women and to know that there are no adversaries, just people and yearnings and embarrassment and attraction and lust and, sometimes, love.
But I wish I had words. I wish I had words devoid of shame and embarrassment. I wish I could stand butt-naked beside a cisgendered man and say, I’m every bit the man he is.
… I’m not supposed to tell you that. These are the thoughts I’m only supposed to share with other transguys, and sometimes not even them.
But maybe I’m not every bit the man he is. Standing side-by-side, I have seen things he has not, experienced things he cannot. I am not the same at all. Such different vessels we all come in, but light is the same light.
Deen says, this world doesn’t make it easy for us to love who we are, but that doesn’t mean we are anything less than wondrously beautiful.