After a shower I stand naked in front of a bathroom mirror
vapor and steam swirling around the enclosed private space
as it conceals all the horrible aspects of my own masculinity.
For once I do not turn away in disgust at my reflected visage
as clouds of water droplets present a much softer appearance
I’m now able to imagine what it would be like to feel feminine.
Unable to see body hair, an adam’s apple, or broad shoulders
and more apparent is the luster and beauty of my supple skin
through the mist I can imagine myself as a vulnerable woman.
At first this brings me shame and guilt in denial and misogyny
but then I come to realize that there is some hope in this image
the desire to accept who I am and grow into my own reflection.
Fuck all the limited assumptions and labels
that encourage you to view this body as male
because I am a bad ass transfeminine tomboy.
No, I am not your stereotypical trans princess
and I do not exist to meet your toxic standards
so confident in my femininity and expression.
But there is always a voice that whispers to me
and it claims that my feminine is not authentic
so overcome with internalized hatred and doubt.
So when I tell people to go and fuck themselves
for trying to pigeonhole me to false conventions
sometimes I wonder who needs to hear that most.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a line I wrote in a poem called “Desolate Lands” where I explained that sometimes I view myself as “a prisoner in my own vessel.” I wanted to deconstruct what emotions and thoughts I was processing in that moment. I was struggling with feelings about dysphoria and discomfort with my biological existence, though before I delve into the nuance of trans issues and the relationships we have with our bodies, I want to explain more about the methods I use when I write poetry. To me, the creation of authentic and visceral emotion in my writing requires me to allow my various thoughts to travel through me and my writing instrument to fill the page untethered with doubt for what I’m feeling in that precise moment. This means that I will often return to something I have written in the past and learn that my thoughts and feelings on the topic have dramatically changed. This is the reason that writing is so cathartic for me, because it helps me learn about who I am as a person, deconstruct complicated thoughts, and is as a catalyst for me to process emotion and trauma. Writing is a healing activity that allows me to move forward and understand my experiences.
I think we’ve all heard it before, the overtly common and limited narrative that suggests all trans people feel trapped in their own bodies, or as “prisoners in their own vessels” as I described in “Desolate Lands” no more than a day ago. I understand that there are many trans people who might feel this way about their bodies and that’s valid and real. In fact, I know that this is a feeling I sometimes have about my own body that comes from dysphoria, hence the inclusion of the line in my recent poem, and I’m not here to debate the reality of those experiences, quite the opposite. However, I do really want to emphasize that I don’t always feel this way about my body and that many trans people feel comfortable in their own bodies, and that doesn’t make them any less authentic.
There is a quote from Alok Vaid-Menon who explains that “[they were not] born in the wrong body, [they were] born in the wrong world.” This quote has always resonated with me as I’ve tried to come to understand my feelings towards my body. Alok draws attention to a toxic gender status quo and encourages us to move beyond a “Western colonial system that’s invested in categorizing everything about us.” I’ve realized since writing “Desolate Lands” that I don’t necessarily feel like a “prisoner in my own vessel” but rather lost in an ocean of stereotypes and false assumptions about my body and how this supposedly defines who I am or how I traverse the world. There is no monolithic trans narrative, and we all have unique relationships with our bodies. I agree with Janet Mock when she explains that the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative can inevitably function to “place [us] in the role of victim, and to those who take mainstream media depictions as truth [we are] seen as a human to be pitied because [we are] someone who needs to be saved, rather than a self-determined [human] with agency and choice and the ability to define who [we are] in this society and who [we] will become in spite of it.”
coiling around me,
bursting from the earth
that is my own flesh.
A deep and hollow rumble,
the vibration in my chest,
that feels like an earthquake
rather than my own voice.
A tumultuous flood,
rushing water over barren soil,
intrusive thoughts and emotions
the deluge of my own uncertainty.
A prisoner in my own vessel,
exiled to these desolate lands,
a constant struggle to feel at home
in the caverns of my own soul.
This might all sound hopeless,
but our eyes tell a different story
of a limitless and expansive galaxy
that is our own to explore.
This can be an uncomfortable conversation topic, because masturbation and any sexual experience is considered taboo to discuss, but I’m all about smashing social norms, so let’s talk about it. Masturbation and sexual release are topics that I have had difficulty navigating as a transgender person, because the dominant discourse is that all transgender people hate their bodies and therefore avoid sexual stimulation and arousal. I want to emphasize that such a perspective is not accurate for many transgender people, and personally I do not experience any dysphoria in relation to sexual stimulation.
This has been strange for me to understand because I have fed into a discourse that says it’s impossible for me to enjoy sexuality with my current biological existence. I believed that it was inappropriate for me to enjoy masturbation and sexual release because of this ridiculous notion that all transgender people supposedly hate their bodies, and therefore I should feel shame about not hating mine. I had this absurd sense of guilt that was founded in nothing more than internalized cissexism and biological essentialism.
I realized how ridiculous that is, especially when one considers that many transgender people don’t feel any dysphoria towards their bodies at all, and have no desire to seek medical transition. I feel as though I had this inappropriate association of masculinity attached to my genitalia (see internalized cissexism above) which made it difficult for me to accept that it’s normal for me to enjoy masturbation and sexual release. Now that I’ve come to realize these issues, I want to emphasize that enjoying sexual release without dysphoria and regardless of our biological realities doesn’t make us any less valid as transgender people, and our experiences with arousal and pleasure are authentic.