Once upon a time, I was a straight boy. Or, at least, I thought I was and everyone else did, too. And at a certain point, what’s the diff?
Accordingly, I had mostly just straight-boy sex, known to most cis, hetero, and vanilla people simply as “sex.” And you know what? It was not a bad time — sort of like how it can be satisfying to pour semisweet chocolate chips directly from the bag into your hand and eat them in the bathroom. But 16 years, a political awakening, and a gender transition later, I’m here to tell you: Raw chips are great, but it’s cookies and baking that are the real next-level shit.
Even at 19, for both self-serving and benevolent reasons, I wanted to be good at sex — which I mostly interpreted to mean “not coming too quickly” and “giving decent head.” I also strove to be woke and sensitive and not buy into macho shit about treating sex like a competition.
I walked that tightrope for a number of years, until I encountered my first major obstacle: diminishing boner returns from age 25 on. With the loving support of my partner, I was able to fight through the shame of “failing to perform,” which I had still managed to internalize in spite of my professed wokeness.
Then I got to work diversifying my assets, so to speak. I got better at giving head and remembered how to use my hands. (Fortunately, I had always enjoyed both getting and giving hand-jobs, so this one came back like riding a bike.) I also came out as queer in 2012 at the same time as I broke up with liberalism, and so I spent the twilight of my 20s being simultaneously initiated to such illicit thrills as running from the cops and eating ass. After a period of years, I was gratified to notice that I truly valued PIV intercourse — that’s “penis in vagina” — no more or less than any of the other dishes in the buffet.
But although the field had gotten bigger, I was still playing the same game with the same rules, trying to be good at sex. And what does that mean? It means making your partners come a dozen times, and being a super-hot item who everyone wants to bag. It means constantly scrambling to increase — or stave off the depreciation of — the value of that commodity that is one’s sexuality, and to command more power in one’s intimate relationships and in wider social circles. It means — not always, but often — shoring up repressive gender norms for you and your partner.
No shade on anyone who wants to play their position, whether in some form of sex work or within the bounds of a more socially sanctioned but still clearly transactional relationship. But I don’t want to conflate work with the type of sex I want to have — that I think I’ve always wanted to have, even if I didn’t know how to describe it. I’m not so naive to think we could ever complete the task, but what would be left if we could filter out heteropatriarchal and capitalist notions of value from our sex?
I imagine an immense range of erotic experience, the meaning — not value — of which is determined solely by the parties involved. That sounds pretty heady, but I know it when I see it, especially if I’m having some frankly pretty weird sex that doesn’t match anything I was ever taught or saw in a movie. When my lover and I are rubbing the most unlikely parts of our bodies together just to see what we can come up with, that’s an expression of our mutual appreciation for creativity, vulnerability, and even outright silliness, and all for their own sakes, with the prospect of an orgasm just a happy by-product.
The question is, how we figure out what kind of sex we want to have and when and how? How do we soothe sick bodies, heal from trauma, move through dysphoria? When do we slow down, take a break, or come to a full stop? This is not merely protocol to make sure the sex goes OK. This is the sex, a sex that is self-determined and aimed toward liberation.
Since I came out as a transwoman last year and began HRT, it’s become clear that whatever direction my sexuality takes, I have my work cut out for me. I can try to keep fucking like I did when I was a 20-year-old straight boy, or I can invest in new ways of relating to my body and to the erotic in myself. I want to do more than just eat chocolate chips, or even bake. I want to build a new sexuality in the shell of the old.