This week Vogue released an article discussing trans women’s sex lives after vaginoplasty. There were some things I found impressive, in the my-expectations-can’t-get-much-lower sense. The cis reporter was respectful, in fact she used more respectful language than the trans women she interviewed. And although there was still plenty of hemming and hawing about whether she should be reporting on the subject (she really shouldn’t but here we are), I thought she did as good a job as I could expect from a cis woman reporting on trans women’s lives.
The meat of the article, the interviews with trans women who have had vaginoplasty, I found limited and unimpressive. Both women interviewed, Nomi and Charlie, were straight trans women. And both women would seem to have only discussed their sex life with straight cis women. Despite the article’s initial bemoaning that trans women aren’t having this conversation more openly. And perhaps because of this, the article follows the same tired “vaginas are so confusing how do you make them cum” narrative that is in so many heteronormative discussions of sex. So this is me, a trans woman, initiating a conversation about sex for other trans women. If you are not a trans woman, you are still welcome to read, but this is not written for you.
Straight trans women are not the norm. Seriously.
Less than a quarter of trans women identify as straight, according to the most recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which is some of the largest collection of self-reported data about trans people to be found. This means any attempt to have a well-represented conversation about sex and trans women must involve queer trans women. The fact that both of the trans women interviewed at no point discussed sex with anyone other than straight men, frankly says more about straight men as sex partners than it does about sex after vaginoplasty.
Your mileage will vary.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the lament that, by expanding the conversations about trans women beyond what our genitals look like, conversations about sex have somehow become taboo. This has not been my experience, or the experience of any of my trans friends. We talk about sex a lot. Regardless of what shape our genitals are or have been. We’re all trying to figure out how to get where we’re going and none of us were given a decent road map when we were born. If anything, the understanding that surgery is not a given has actually helped us have better conversations about sex.
When I was preparing for surgery, vaginoplasty was intensely important for my happiness and well-being. I would often go into dark pits of self-loathing because of disgust at my own body and how others would perceive it. Now that I’ve had surgery, I can acknowledge it was a good decision but only that it was a good decision for me. Every time a trans woman asks me about vaginoplasty, I tell her the honest truth. It was really fucking difficult, quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve done in an already hard life. And it hasn’t so much improved my life as it has simply removed some obstacles that were significantly troubling. Other than that, not much in my life has changed. I’m still trans and always will be. I will still deal with oppression and obstacles cis people never will, and that’s true of all trans people. The only person who can know if vaginoplasty is right for them or not is the individual contemplating it. For me, that’s more important information than whether I can get wet or not.
My experience will not be your experience. And a cis woman’s experience won’t be your experience either. So rather than wondering if what you experience is “normal”, it’s better to ask if it works for you.
Sex before vaginoplasty can be weird. Sex after vaginoplasty can be weird.
Before surgery, I had a pretty active sex life. I had several regular partners that I enjoyed infrequent sex with in various ways that worked for my and their preferences. Because of intense dysphoria, I never used my genitals during sex before surgery, but I gave lots of head and took lots of anal from people of various genders. Although having the initial conversation of “how do I fuck you?” was awkward, actually having the conversation ensured we had an enjoyable time.
After surgery, I’ve had a pretty active sex life. I have several regular partners of many non-male genders that I enjoy infrequent sex with in various different ways. I still don’t really like having my genitals touched most of the time, which many people find surprising. And I no longer enjoy penetration except in very rare circumstances. But I still give lots of head, and now I love strapping on. My sex life has gotten more creative, but also possibly more confusing, since surgery. But that’s because I’ve expanded what is and isn’t “sex”, not because my anatomy boggles me or my partners.
I still have “how do I fuck you?” conversations with new sex partners. This could be why, at worst, I’ve had unremarkable but never bad sex. I’m not afraid to tell someone “Yeah, your tongue isn’t working for me. Let’s get out the magic wand instead.” And there is still plenty about how sex works for me that I still can’t really articulate or understand, but because I discuss that with the people I have sex with, and not straight cis lady friends, I’ve never had anyone tell me that boring sex is just part of figuring out life with a vagina.
Vaginas aren’t rubik’s cubes. Not even neo-vaginas.
Look, I’m not gonna act like figuring out how to achieve an orgasm isn’t a thing that a lot of women and fems struggle with. We’re socialized to put our (presumably male) partners’ pleasure and needs above our own, with their orgasm being assumed and ours being nice-if-it-happens. Unpacking all that and learning how to speak up for your own needs can be an ongoing process. But none of that means I don’t know how to touch myself and figure out what feels good and what doesn’t. That was how I decoded sex before surgery, and it’s how I decode sex after surgery.
There’s still plenty I’m figuring out, such as whether I’m polyamorous, whether I’m aromantic, whether I’m asexual, why some people turn me on and some don’t, and why that might change suddenly without warning, but I don’t try to figure myself out by sleeping with clueless men and hoping they magically know how to fuck me right. I figure it out by openly discussing those issues with partners, and in therapy if I really need help.
Before surgery, I was able to achieve orgasm after about half an hour of self-stimulation through anal penetration with toys. After surgery, I can achieve an orgasm in less than five minutes if I have my magic wand vibrator and the right mindset. Both of those didn’t come easily right away, but I held myself responsible for my own orgasms and found a way.
Sex is easy, except when it isn’t.
When I think about my major roadblocks in regards to sex, it’s not what gets me off or how my anatomy works or even finding someone who is interested. So frankly, an article that focuses on these aspects is just boring as hell to read. For my sex life, it’s about what relationship, if any, I want to maintain with my sex partners outside of bed. How much personal autonomy and emotional distance I need in order to feel aroused and not suffocated. What forms of communication are effective and what aren’t. How to express my sexuality and still be respectful of my non-binary partners. How to maintain a balance between indulging in fantasy but unequivocally respecting consent as a Domme. Why my sex drive is very high for some periods and then non-existent for other periods of time. Why I have such a difficult time allowing myself to be the focus of attention by a partner. Whether my methods of enjoying sex are healthy but unusual, or a sign of emotional issues I still need to work through.
At no point have I wondered “Is it normal to just feel like you’re rubbing on a carpet when a guy is eating you out?!”
Because regardless of whether it is a “normal” experience or not, it doesn’t mean I or any other trans woman have to put up with it.