A little over a year ago, I interviewed a friend of mine named Nomi Ruiz—who’s a singer and an outspoken voice in the trans community—for Vogue. She wanted to talk about how, after she had gender confirmation surgery in her mid-twenties, there wasn’t any information out there about what sex was going to be like for her, which felt really scary. It was a subject that she felt like no one was talking about.
It makes sense, for a lot of important reasons, to keep that stuff private. A few years ago, as narratives of trans experience leapt to the forefront of the cultural conversation, a lot of prominent people in the trans community—like Laverne Cox, for example—pointed out that the media's focus on sex and surgery and genitals objectifies trans people and in many ways distracts from pressing issues at hand, like the fact that trans people face disproportionate levels of violence and unemployment and homelessness. In order to avoid that, there was basically a black box put over conversations around sex and sexuality for trans people.
Now, though, there’s a few voices in the trans community who are saying that, although they want to prevent objectification and invasion of privacy, it’s also really important and necessary to be open about sex. Because when you tell people they can’t talk about sex, that breeds shame and confusion around the subject and can inhibit people from getting proper sex education. Because I’m cis, I have nothing personal to add. But I am typically a proponent for talking openly about sex. So, I decided to speak to some people who are passionate about opening up this conversation.
Buck Angel is one of those people. He’s a New York based porn producer and motivational speaker who also created the first sex toy for trans men in the world. His toy is called BuckOFF, and it’s a masturbation tool for trans men that’s shaped like a penis. So, if you have a clit that’s been enlarged through testosterone therapy, you can place the toy on top and use your hand to jack off like you’re holding a penis. I shadowed Buck a bit as he did promo for the toy, and he explained that the goal is to allow trans men to jack off without having to touch their genitals, because that can trigger gender dysphoria in some people.
"That was an amazing thing, to be able to create a product that gave men permission to masturbate and gave men permission to say my body is OK and I’m OK,” said Buck.
Buck’s ultimate goal is to help people accept their bodies. For the motivational speaker part of his job, he holds sex-related seminars for trans people. I attended one at the LGBT Community Center in New York, with about 30 other people—mostly trans people, some with their cis partners. In it, he shared his own experience living as a man with a vagina. He talked about how, at first, he was uncomfortable with sex because he didn’t relate to his genitals, but through masturbation he slowly came to love his vagina and love having sex in the body he’s in. He totally supports people who want to have gender confirmation surgery, but he also wants to open up conversations about how that may not be right for everyone, and that’s fine. He basically spreads the message that not all bodies need to be a specific way, and you don’t have to have a dick to be a man.
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I also checked in with Nomi to chat about the experience of people who do want to get surgery. She told me that she’s still realizing how many things she didn’t know beforehand. Like, no one told her that when she got a pussy, it was gonna get wet. She was like: “My vagina is so much more amazing than I thought it was going to be!” But she had to learn all these things, similar to when you’re a teen and you first start having sex. She said the first time a guy went down on her, she was like, “Something’s wrong with me, I can’t cum.” And then someone explained to her that some guys are just bad at eating girls out and she just needed to find someone else who was better.
Nomi said she wishes there were more people out there getting real about gender confirmation surgery and what its like to have sex afterwards. Often, the way people talk about surgery is that it’s not about sex, it’s about gender dysphoria. And while that can be true for some people, Nomi feels like sex is a big part of being a human, and that gender confirmation surgery can have a lot to do with sex, too.
My conversations with Buck and Nomi really confirmed for me how important it is to have open and honest conversations around sex—and for trans people to be able to build community around those conversations. I think some form of that issue exists for everyone. In general, when people aren’t able to talk about sex, it creates insecurity and shame and a lack of education. Why would that be any different for trans people?
As Nomi put it: "Somehow, we have to break the barrier because there is a time and place to talk about sex. It's OK to talk about sex; it's your choice, and you should be in charge of that dialogue and that narrative.”