If you think that the penis and vagina are settled facts from which to infer identity, you're a few years behind contemporary transgender discourse. Thanks to the trans movement, mainstream America has become increasingly aware of the concept of the "gender binary" in recent years. Of course, the division of men and women into discrete, opposite groups, à la Mars and Venus, was already obvious sexist bullshit, but transgender feminism has helped flesh out the way that gender works culturally, experientially, and physiologically.
Centering the narrative of transgender people around what they do to their bodies is typically cliché; the bodies of trans people have long been sensationalized because they counter the boring, binary, heteronormative mainstream. But while many rightfully use this argument to shift discourse away from trans bodies, the reality of the transsexual body is nevertheless important: It disrupts conventional and harmful ideas about intrinsic and unalterable sex differences. The experiences of some transgender women who are taking cross-sex hormone therapy may provide much needed insight into the human body's potential, while also challenging dumb ideas about fixed and unchangeable gender.
Kibz is a Turkish, queer, transgender woman in her mid-20s. In an interview with Broadly, she explained that her relationship to her body and genitalia has changed dramatically in the five months that she's undergone male-to-female Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). "For starters, my balls are shrinking and they are migrating up north, pretending to be my ovaries," she said.
I love and enjoy my penis and don't consider it to be a male organ.
One experience that has been traditionally considered totally female—because it is thought to be a result of the physiological characteristics of the vagina—is the multiple orgasm. But Kibz also told me that estrogen has allowed her to achieve multiple orgasms, though before her transition she was incapable of having more than one at a time. "Before I started HRT, I was on an estrogenic diet and exercise regimen that highlighted estrogen production in the body for about six months," she said. "I started achieving multiple orgasms in that time frame, and I was obsessed with it."
According to Kibz, while her sexual center was once located in her penis, she can also now orgasm by stimulating parts of her body that used to be sexually inactive, such as her nipples, as well as through indirect sexual activity, like making out.
"I love and enjoy my penis and don't consider it to be a male organ," Kibz said, adding that the binary view of sex is oppressive to people who identify with concepts beyond it. "My penis is not male, because it's on my body. There is fluidity in genitalia, and labeling one as male or female is Western medical industrial complex nonsense. It hurts intersex and trans people."
Lana is a transgender artist in her 30s. "Prior to transition, my sex drive didn't have an off switch," she said in an interview with Broadly. "I would call it a juggernaut of sorts, something that was in control of me rather than me of it." Like many trans people, she doesn't use traditional language to refer to her genitalia. "My bits were stimulated in a very straightforward fashion," she explained. "I had to climax, or I was consumed with sexual desire."
Lana says her sexuality prior to HRT was like a glass of water that someone had mixed a bunch of dirt into. But male-to-female hormone therapy changed that. "HRT was the settling of the sediments and filth," she said. "The water became clearer, and my sexuality became more honed and defined." This gave her control over a sexuality that was once overpowering; she effectively became more logical when she became a woman. Though women are typically labeled as impulsive, with less control over their emotions and bodies, the experiences of many trans women suggest that the opposite is true. They say that, in comparison to the effects estrogen has had on them, testosterone appears to have promoted irrational decision making. "I am no longer a slave to testosterone," Lana said.
Zoey, a trans woman in her early 20s, feels similarly. "I think the way testosterone impacted my sexuality was unsettling in ways I wasn't fully aware of," she told me. "I wouldn't say aggressive is the word, but when I was turned on, it came on more strongly."
Different parts of the body seemed to activate after hormone therapy. "Prior to HRT, orgasms were very localized," Lana said, explaining that orgasms were isolated to her genitalia. "As my hormones levels changed, I could feel my whole body being involved in sex. As things 'clicked' in my mind, orgasms became something spiritual and enchanted." Sex became more enjoyable because it was less urgent, impulsive, and immediate. "My estrogen orgasms feel like a drug high (weed, not cocaine). My mind loses itself in sensations and [the] clarity that this [is a] new kind of a climax," she said.
In addition to an increased control over her sexuality and the functional changes she's experienced, Lana said that she became less stimulated by visual depictions of sex; after she began HRT, pornography lost the allure it once had. "Simply going to bed and touching myself in the dark became much more satisfying."
Zoey also became less visually stimulated after HRT. "I noticed that my sexuality became a lot more sensually focused," she said. "I became more simulated emotionally than visually and found that ideas and imagination turned me on far more than anything visual."
Prior to transition, my sex drive didn't have an off switch. I would call it a juggernaut of sorts, something that was in control of me rather than me of it.
Before HRT, Lana's orgasms were forgettable, immediate, and forceful. Today, she describes them as "amazing" and far more intense than before. "They seem to come in waves during sexual activity and through the afterglow," Lana said. "Even after I've come, the pulses still quake my body, each one causing me to twitch and writhe amongst my pillows and sheets. The waves of orgasms lasting a good ten minutes after climax before waning."
Like many trans women, Lana takes the time to inform her sexual partners of how she wants to be touched; she told me there is a learning curve for the people she beds. "Gone is the bestial pounding of my penis to get aroused," Lana said. "Now my bits require a more gentle touch. Rubbing, vibration and sensual touching are a few of the ways I reach sexual zenith." She also shares the correct, non-traditional language they should use to refer to her body. "Not to say I have a lot of rules," Lana said. "Sexual exploration and discovery are what this new(ish) body thrives on."
And not all transgender people rename their bodies. Both Kibz and Zoey call their penis, their penis.
Kibz told me that while HRT has changed the way her body works, it's also changed the kinds of people she's attracted to. Zoey said the same thing. "I honestly feel really lucky that HRT has changed my sexuality, that I am losing interest in masculine people," Kibz said, adding that she's particularly interested in being with other transgender people; life after men has been fulfilling. "I am still open the idea of having sex with a cis man, to explore that part of my sexuality—but it's not something I actively pursue anymore, and that makes me feel liberated," she said.
Sex is a fundamental aspect of most people's lives. As you might expect, the dramatic changes that these transgender women experienced after altering their hormonal sex have had an impact on the way they perceive themselves, and life. "I've become far more comfortable with a queer, fluid sense of sexuality," Zoey said. "Both my masculinity and femininity are able to flourish."
The experience of changing her sex has also been existentially stimulating. "I used to think there was some buried authentic self waiting to manifest," she said. "Now I believe it is always manifesting, always flowing, changing, and expanding as I make deeper contact with the world and the people in it."
Lana also feels mentally reborn after washing her cells in estrogen. "My transition, HRT included, has given me a different outlook on life," she said. "Though dysphoria and depression are constant battles, I feel that I've grown as a person (mainly my boobs)."