Ask Professor Foxy: Am I Betraying My Gender Identity By Enjoying Sex? And What About SRS?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I am a trans woman in her early twenties. I have known about my gender for a long time now, but have only started (ok, it’s for the second time after being scared off by my family a couple years ago) transitional stuff about 6 months ago. I have a very caring cis-female partner and we are sexually active, both wanting to spend lots of time on making the other feel good and enjoying the process of doing so.
I, however, have a couple issues about sex. The majority of my stimulation comes from my genitals; I enjoy the sensation of things on other parts of my body and I have some enjoyment from the pain of my breasts being bitten, but for me to actually be enjoy things erotically my penis has to be involved. And I don’t like it, mentally. I like the sensations, my partner is very good at making me physically enjoy things, using her hands or mouth or vulva, but I have to ignore part of my head which is telling me that I really don’t like having anything to do with my penis. This is irrespective of positions taken, whether I am being dom or sub, as we do all of these (though being ‘on top’ I feel this even more so).
I suppose my question is two fold. Firstly I would like to know if you think that by being physically active in this way that I’m going against myself, because that’s what it feels like to me, and if so what I should do about it, as I would sort of like to be able to enjoy myself sexually.
Secondly is a question for the future. I am not near the point of sexual reassignment surgery at the moment, but in a couple years I will be in a position where I could have it (and paid for by the government as I’m in the UK). I really don’t like having a penis, I think it’s ugly, it messes up the way my clothes look, and jars with my self image, but also since I don’t have any sexual pleasure from any other part of my body I’m worried that after surgery I simply won’t be able to enjoy sex any more and wonder if you can tell me about what sexual sensations women have, if any, after SRS.
Thanks,
Conflicted

Dear Conflicted -
I in no way think you are going against yourself. In the words of a trans woman friend of mine who I spoke to about this question “everyone has the right to sexual pleasure with the body they have.” Your body does not match your gender and that is hard. Let’s think of ways to make it less of a disconnect. I love the support of your partner. First, how do you and she refer to your genitalia? Instead of penis, why not use words like clit, pussy, or whatever word you like the best. You are female and, in sexual situations, should feel free to use female words to refer to your genitals. This may feel awkward at first, but I think you’ll grow into it.
What do you picture in your mind? If you are thinking about penis, penis it will be. Think of your genitalia as female and it may start to be much more comfortable. Inner voices will likely tell you that you are lying to yourself, try ignoring them or answering them with “it is MY clit.” A lot of people, trans and cis, do not use the biologically accurate terms to refer to their genitalia and gain power and pleasure from this.
As you move through transitioning, you deserve sexual pleasure. Frankly, I think it will be a good release.
As to your question for the future, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) has different outcomes for different people, but the majority of trans women do have sexual sensation. I also think that many of the things that you describe (uncomfortableness with your genitalia and body) will be alleviated. In all people, being comfortable with one’s body is key to enjoying sex.
Choose your surgeon carefully, see pictures of her work ahead of time to make sure you like the physical outcome. Make sure she will talk to you about your fears and concerns. See if you can find other trans women (the internet is a great resource for this) who have used the same surgeon. How do they feel about their results?
Keep in mind that this is surgery and your body is going to take time to heal, do not panic if it takes up a few months for sensation to develop in your genitalia or any place where you have had surgery.
Sexual sensations may also be different and try to embrace this. It is a mark of a new body and a new relationship with your body.
Last, celebrate. Why not have a vulvatastic party with your partner? You are coming into a new phase and that should be honored. Transitioning can be difficult, but there are rewards and happiness along the way. Enjoy them!
Best,
Professor Foxy
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17 Comments

  1. Tara K.
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Great question and great answer!
    As Prof. Foxy suggested, using words that you like could be a great idea. I would add that it might be helpful to find some erotic imagery (photographic or video) that shows trans women who haven’t undergone gender reassignment surgery. This might help you mentally to accept the idea that women who have the same genitalia as you can be erotic, desirable, and have happy sex. Seeing women who look like us is always helpful in feeling good about our bodies; when I see a curvier woman being sexy, it helps me feel like my body is sexier.
    My advice to anyone is always to make your sexual mantra “No shame.” It sounds to me like you just need to remember that you’re a beautiful woman with a wonderful body and a great partner — there’s a lot to celebrate sexually there!

  2. Spiffy McBang
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I know so many people who need to read shit like this. Not because they’re trans, but the opposite- because they’re “normal” and know squat about anything outside of that, or really that situations like this even exist.
    Anyway, props for handling questions like this. I can’t imagine too many websites not dealing specifically with these issues do so.

  3. another constellation
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m a genderqueer trans man and whenever the question about using the genitals we were born with comes up, I think of Mary Shimich’s advice in “Advice, like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young” (you might know it as “Trust Me on the Sunscreen):
    Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
    As I feel less dysphoric in my body and begin embracing my queerness and genderqueerness more, I use the body I have presently more. I think we are often asked to feel guilt for this, or told that we are not trans enough if we enjoy our bodies. I think, quite frankly, that this is some gender-essentialist bullshit. Using your penis doesn’t make you any less a woman. Using my vagina (and my clitoris, and my vulva, and my breasts) doesn’t make me any less of a man. If you don’t feel disphoric or weird about it, don’t accept anyone else trying to tell you that you should.
    For my part, gender confirmation surgery is not in the cards. I live in the US, where it is not covered, and, as you may know, shaping a penis is a somewhat less exact science than shaping a vagina. I’ve made peace with keeping what I have, keeping what works. That’s my path. As you begin getting closer to your surgery (or surgeries), start asking around to recommendations of doctors. Ask perspective doctors what results you might be able to expect, if they have pictures, if they have former clients who might be willing to speak to you. Use the internet liberally– as you probably know, doctors and their results (and bedside manner, and staff, and everything else) are frequent topics of conversation in trans spaces. There are a few good groups on LiveJournal, including transgender and MTF.
    Good luck on your path.

  4. another constellation
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    On another note, Spiffy, referring to cissexual people as “normal” is straight-up bullshit, and it needs to stop. Even when you put it in quotes, it reinforces the idea that trans people are abnormal and until we stop doing that, we will not be anywhere.
    Tara, unfortunately, most mainstream porn featuring trans women is extremely transmisogynistic. Unless you have a specific recommendation, this likely isn’t the most helpful suggestion.

  5. Gular
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I definitely agree with Professor Foxy on this whole-heartedly. I think that taking control of the labels for your own body is key to acceptance to whatever body you have regardless of shape, size or gender status.
    The gender binary can make it very difficult to accept your body while you’re at odds with how you feel and how it looks. If you’re not meeting with a trans positive therapist, you may want to find one and speak with hir. I think it can help you really decide a lot of things about your body with an uninvolved third party in a supportive space, since you expressed apprehension about future reassignment surgery.
    No matter what your physical composition, you are always the woman you are. Express yourself how you are and always remember that whatever your body looks like, your gender identity is beyond that and not because of that.
    Best of luck with everything and all of this.

  6. EmilyGrrl
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    You’re right, there aren’t too many resources out there like it. As a trans woman, I’ve looked, and the most I’ve found are select discussions on private transgender forums. My friend and I were lamenting the lack of sexuality resources for trans people, so we decided to start our own project, to fill the void. You can find it at http://transsexualities.com/
    It’s funny that this article came up today, as only a couple weeks ago, I wrote an article on the exact same issue. You can read it at http://transsexualities.com/2009/08/cognitive-dissonance-in-bed/

  7. Emily
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Great response. I know as a cis woman it helped finding porn with women who looked like me to find myself sexually desirable. Also, I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror just excepting that I was beautiful and sexy.
    Maybe standing in front of a mirror accepting that your body is sexy and that your a beautiful woman now and any way you use your beautiful body for the pleasure of you and your partner will be sexy and natural.

  8. Rob
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I agree with Tara K… While I have not seen them myself, I know the Crash Pad series has pre/non-op trans women and has been highly recommended by several trust-worthy sources.
    I would also add that it may get easier for you to identify with your genitals and use affirming language as your transition progresses. You didn’t say what you’d started, but 6 months isn’t very long… I know for me, my genitals became much less objectionable when the rest of me looked more male.
    When you’re just starting out, it can be hard to see the real you reflected in the mirror, but as you progress it’s easier to see the “flaws” as personal quirks instead of identity-threatening failures.

  9. j7sue2
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    SRS… I am a post op transsexual woman – Vagina by Dr Suporn of Chonburi
    You should be very careful about which surgeon you select to do your SRS. Do your research thouroughly, think about what is important to you – depth, cosmetics, position, sensate…
    realistically you only get one go at this, and if your “free” NHS surgery result is not one that you’re happy with, there will be no way of fixing it. Decide what you want. There are very different techniques between – say Bellringer in the UK who takes 2 hours to do a penile inversion, while Suporn takes over 7 and uses the resources quite differently.. It’s a lot of money to go private – but it will last the rest of your life.
    On the sexual responsiveness post op – you should get a sensate clitoris (but check – there are some that don’t do that!!!!) so all the necessary connections should be there, but it’ll take a long time for your recovery from surgery – this is major stuff, and you’ll still be healing a year later, although mostly you’ll be ok after 3 months or so.
    I have found female sexuality to be different, in many ways … I’ve had to relearn what turns me on, and how. So don’t expect it to be simple.

  10. Mollie
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Professor Foxy is pretty brilliant.
    Good luck!!

  11. Tara K.
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to argue that most porn has values we may not hold, whereas erotica is/can be different. Nonetheless, many people can still enjoy different forms of porn & erotica. I only know that there is a wide variety of porn out there with genderqueer producers that uses transwomen who are pre-op. Having never bought porn myself, I can’t really endorse any site. As for erotica, there’s a lot of positivity in Kaldera’s popular work.
    On the topic, though, Alternet published this work last year:
    http://www.alternet.org/sex/92566/what_trans_erotica_gets_wrong/

  12. chie
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    As someone who has not felt at home in my body, I appreciate Foxy’s advice. I have experienced the feeling of “not trans enough” which makes an already difficult experience even more confusing. (For the record, I ended up settling on pan-gender/gender-queer, a label that would accept me as I am.) Recasting my genitalia to fit my identity definitely helped me to accept them and enjoy them, as I could finally own them.
    Whole-heartedly, good luck.

  13. inallsincerity
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    This was a wonderful piece! Thank you for including transsexuality in the column.
    YouTube is a FANTASTIC resource for transpeople. There are hundreds of transpeople making video blogs on every and all issues (struggles and triumphs!) they face. There are even collaborative channels where a panel of transpeople have gotten together to address different topics every week. There are two collab channels run by the partners of transmen (I don’t know if there are any for the partners of transwomen) called TMatesFTM and TranscribersFTM and they tackle topics like sex and sexuality as well.
    Thank you again!

  14. chocolatepie
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Great advice on using female words! I’d love to see more feminist advice from here, because as much as I love Dan Savage, he does get a little male-entitlement on his readers sometimes.
    Something else to consider: the penis and the clitoris are made of the same kind of hyper-sensitive tissue. All embryos have this default building block of flesh, but depending on the hormone-bath during pregnancy, that tissue develops in different ways. So I never thought of men and women’s genitalia as different as a lot of people seem to. Just like real blocks, you can arrange them in different structures, but it’s not like the pieces are unrecognizable.

  15. Simone
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    The genitals issue is a hard limit for me, in fact it goes beyond that. Pre-op…don’t touch them…ever. I have made this clear to many partners. As a trans woman who does plan on getting SRS, I don’t like the “alternate terms”, and deep down they kind of bother me, to me whats there right now is an abomination plain and simple, it does not belong. It has bothered me extensively when I have spoke to sexual partners with a very explicit “don’t touch” and they do. While my current partner has not done this, many have ignored what I said or “forgot”. Well what part of “don’t touch” do you not get even after I explained in detail its off limits PERIOD. If a trans-woman who is pre-op or otherwise says the genitials are off limits…they are off limits. While some non-ops may buy the alternative terminology and are okay with sexual interaction with the birth genitials, I am NOT. To me…at best its just flesh for reconstructive surgery, and nothing more. Personally I am sick and tired of getting assaulted by sexual partners when my limits are stated clearly. If one is uncomfortable with what’s there, thier limits should be respected. Nothing is going to make this person comfortable and disrespecting ones sexual boundaries is assualt, plain and simple.
    My current cisgender boyfriend has been nothing but respectful, and so have transguys I have dated in the past. The problem lies with cis-gender guys who just lack respect for various reasons.
    I should note. The NHS is notably horrible with regards to trans-women. They have been known to throw up all kinds of barriers to transition and have rather backwards sexist thinking at thier gender clinics.

  16. Simone
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I should additionally mention the trans-porn I see as more hurtful then helpful. It leads to alot of misunderstandings with regards to how trans women are sexually, and with regards to what we want. It also introduces an additional problem in it presents us as still “basically male” (ie dominant sexually). Basically it portrays trans women doing sexual acts most straigh identified trans women would want no part of. I really think it is a bad idea to use it as an example. I should note I have had numerous bad experiences because of guys who got the fact that the porn was what normally occured with trans women, without realizing how genitials are often a no-go area for many trans pre-op women. They come in with this assumption without really respecting the persons feminity or sexuality. Sorry to be a little bothered by that post, but this is a reality I have had to live out the consequences of. Trans-porn is mostly harmful to trans women because it presents a false image of what it is like to have sex with a trans woman, and also has a gross effect of marginalizing trans women sexually. While I am all for pro-sex, I am pro-sex when it does not marginalize and misrepresent the sexuality of a group of people. Without question trans-porn does both.

  17. EmilyGrrl
    Posted September 1, 2009 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    I agree with you that most trans porn is hurtful to trans people, but I have to point out that many trans women ARE sexually dominant, just like there are many cis-women that are sexually dominant, too. Dominance in bed is all too often thought to be a gendered trait, when it isn’t.

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