Like most people, I was raised believing that sex was between a man and woman who love each other.
And if a vagina wasn’t penetrated by a penis during sex, then it wasn’t really sex. These beliefs created never-ending confusion for me, as I came to grips with my vaginismus and my trans identity. Never did I think either were valid, nor were they connected…that is, until recently.
Since I was young, I never imagined a man penetrating me whenever I would think of sex or masturbate. It’s just not something I ever really wanted. Instead, I imagined penetrating my lover, who was usually a woman, in my fantasies. This was something I didn’t take seriously until much later, since I was very much in the closet until I was 20. In my own romantic life, I indulged in plenty of clit stimulation and oral sex, never considering or prioritizing penetrative sex. I was able to pull this off without question pretty easily, missing the guilt that many women with vaginismus suffer from. I simply didn’t care about anyone else’s expectations, gendered or not: I knew what I liked.
However, I’ve had many men (some lovers and some creepy strangers) offer to help me have “real sex” with promises of gentleness and unbridled pleasure. But as a man, as someone who hardly connects with their vagina beyond some clit stimulation, these offers never sounded appealing to me. They actually sounded pretty creepy and pretentious. Their claims to have more sexual experience than I do simply because they’ve penetrated a vagina before, and assuming that their ability to do so means they know exactly what I need, is endlessly irritating. But I’m often dismissed when I express annoyance with this, with many men telling me that I just don’t know all the untapped potential of sex that can be activated for me with a thrust of their penis. Gross.
Men on the internet, and even my own friends, have expressed sympathy over the fact that I’ve never had vaginal sex. One Twitter troll asked me what the point of my sex life (and life in general) was if I couldn’t “be fucked properly.” And one of my good friends expressed deep sympathy when I told him about my vaginismus, asking me how long treatment takes and jokingly saying “it rhymes with Christmas but it sure doesn’t sound as fun.” I didn’t think the rhyme was funny.
I’d be lying if I said that male opinions of my body and my sex life haven’t deeply affected me. Because they have. All these years of mansplaining taught me to be ashamed of my vaginismus, blocking me from realizing that vaginismus was a mere detail in the greater scheme of things. I don’t want to be penetrated, or treat my vaginismus, because my vagina doesn’t feel like my own and because I’m simply disinterested in that kind of penetration.
These assertions that people with vaginas need to be able to be penetrated is weird and completely surrounding us, making it that much more difficult for folks with vaginismus to love themselves. It’s certainly not fair to place these strange expectations on cisgender women, even if they wish they could be penetrated. But the fact that I fell victim to what was a very cisgender heterosexual norm confused me further on my path to understanding my trans body.
I was so caught up in stressing over my inability to sexually perform like “a real woman” that I didn’t realize how contradictory I was being. Why would I care about having sex like a real woman if I’m not even a woman at all?
People’s weird assumptions about my pleasure had been blocking my trans identity for so long. And once I finally let that go, once I blocked it out and started dating someone who didn’t believe any of those things, I realized I could have sex however I wanted to. I could feel an invisible penis between my legs. I came to see that it wasn’t normal not to be able to feel anything when you touch your own vagina. I realized I was trans, had vaginismus, and that it’s okay that I have sex differently than other people.
I grew to accept that folks (especially men) think my sex life is fruitless when they discover that penetration is out of the question, despite how frustrating that can be as someone who has a thriving and kinky sex life within and outside of my polyamorous relationship. But the pleasure that I give and receive cannot really be questioned on the basis of its validity. Everyone has their own unique experiences with sex and their bodies. Mine just happens to include using a strap-on and having my clit stimulated. And if someone wants to mansplain that to me, I can’t stop them nor do I care to. I’m too busy having filthy, delicious queer sex.