Transphobia, Trauma and Sex

Being trans isn’t a source of trauma, but I now understand the cisnormativity and transphobia, especially in my childhood, as gaslighting.

CN mention of sexual assault history, gaslighting, porn consuming, and more.

It didn’t matter how much I insisted I wasn’t a girl, that I was certain of this, and wanted this reflected in the medical interventions done to me because of my sex variation (aka I’m intersex.) Everyone from parents through teachers and friends to complete strangers (to say nothing of multiple “experts”) said “no, you’re wrong, you don’t know you; you’re a girl.” Slowly but surely it ground me down until I became unable to trust myself. Additionally, for short bursts of time, now and again, I would try to convince myself I was female. This amplified my dysphoria.

Being gendered female in childhood, but not conforming to my assigned gender, people relentlessly scrutinised me. I registered most of this as them thinking about my body, and specifically my genitals, every time they (mis)gendered me. I suspect there’s something harmful about having the realization at a very young age that other people are scrutinizing one’s body and taking ownership over the narrative of what it means and what its limitations are. This realisation made me feel validated in having symptoms of intense trauma “in spite of” a relatively limited amount of overt sexual trauma.

My dysphoria was alternatively denied, downplayed or stigmatised (by everyone who wrongly assumes that acknowledging it is pathologising myself and/or who denies that dysphoria is real.) This meant I wasn’t sorting out that my experience of it was a series of triggers,  that I had to identify, so I could have a chance to manage and/or resolve said triggers. For three decades, between the social denial, downplaying and stigmatising, and the medical and financial barriers, it often left me dysfunctional around a number of things, including cyclically sexual intimacy.

jr-korpa-couple holding hands fading-unsplash
[Photo of 2 people holding hands, fading as they move forward by Jr Korpa on Unsplash.]

There were the anti-choice people with half baked understanding of body positivity. They insisted that the way for me to have a positive relationship to my body was to accept it as it was, and accept other people’s positive relationship to it, I was to deny myself bodily autonomy and choice. This despite all the ways that my body, as it was, caused me immense distress.

There were the anti-choice partners who insisted the social justice thing to do was be a switch, let them top me sometimes, and not get lower surgeries. According to them, I was drowning in too much internalised transphobia to know my sexual preferences, have agency to refuse sexual intimacy I told them I would not enjoy, or be the best to judge what I should do with my “reproductive” system.

Separate from all of that is an extensive history of sexual assaults. None of it fits the endocishet understanding of “rape = penis in vagina” but I’ve been violently grabbed, ruffied, had some acts besides PIV forced onto me. Still, my gut’s always mantained the other stuff mentioned in the previous paragraphs has left me as, if not more, traumatised than the sexual assaults.

There was so much more of that, and it all boils down to people not believing I had dysphoria, that it impacted me as it did, and thus not getting the psychosocial tools, support, and medically necessary interventions I needed to learn to manage the triggers I can’t eliminate, and resolve those I can. And instead, being filled with so much stigma, translating to so much self-hatred.

[Photo of a person covering their face, seeming grief striken by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash.]

I’ve come a very long way, my quality of life has improved several folds. I used to watch porn with fetishes and fantasies that disturbed me the moment I came. For a long time, I couldn’t explain why I enjoyed the porn I watched, as it was quite removed from the types of sexual intimacy I enjoyed IRL. (No one should take that as shaming anyone whose porn habits do line up with their real life desires and kinks. I don’t yuck other people’s yums.)

However, when I finally sorted out how (why) I enjoyed what I watched, I began to reframe my understanding of transphobia and cisnormativity to include gaslighting, shaming, and trauma. My relationship to those fantasies is a multi-layered product of the things I was gaslit into valuing, while simultaneously leading to self-hatred. Again, I’m not suggesting this is true of any other kinkster’s relationship to their kinks. Simultaneously, I’m also hardly the first person who’s used kink in one way or another as part of managing or healing trauma. As I worked through my stuff, my taste in porn has shifted quite a bit. I still wish it was different than what it is, but I’m much more okay with what it is today than what it was before.

[Photo of a person randomly swirling a source of light at dusk by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.]

The turning point for me was following stage 1, and the extended period of time I could no longer have sex in the limited ways I had prior to lower surgery, and couldn’t have sex as I now can following a penile implant.

The stars aligned: I found a body image group for men (I was the only trans participant, and it was a truly healing experience for me), I did some work with a sex therapist, and a friend invited me to partake in a body pride workshop. [2 hours of speaking with strangers about where we got our notions around bodies and sex, while we’re all naked, facilitated by a somatic sex therapist.] All together, these things help me come to a much better relationship to myself, my body and intimacy.

Having said that, there’s something about recognising the trauma accumulated over decades that leaves ongoing ripple effects. Now and again I’ll experience what I can best describe as a wave of hyperawareness about an aspect of my trauma history. Sometimes I’m realising an additional layer to it, other times I’m confronted with how much deeper the psychological wounds run than I previously realised. Validating trauma for me has been the “gift” that keeps on giving, for better and worse. But the more I work on it, the healthier my sex life is, and the more my libido improves.

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