This is a sex column, and I’m going to be talking about sex today, but not as a good thing.
I’ve had a very unhealthy relationship, often addiction-like, with sex, that I still sometimes fight to overcome. This column is going to be about that, and how I fell into it, mostly because of how out of touch I was with my body and my transness. It’s also going to be about how I fight it, mostly by trying to be positive about my body.
I’ve never been super comfortable with my body. My feelings about it live on a spectrum that ranges from it triggering me through hatred to a fearful momentary pride I feel the need to hide.
On worse days, this feels reasonable. It tells people I’m a gender I’m not. Most times, it fails to carry me upstairs. It’s marked with reminders of the trauma I carry. It’s consistently rated as either fit for consumption or not worth respect. It seems like everything around me wants my body and I to not get along.
Which is ridiculous, of course, because my body is not it’s own entity. It shapes and is shaped by my experiences. It’s a part of me, it’s the only reason I exist, and it feels like I SHOULD know that and love it for it, but most times, I don’t.
I’ve gotten a lot better at it, though, than I was before.
And how that started had a lot to do with sex. The first time I realised my body could be attractive to other people, I was surprised but convinced it was because they didn’t know what it really looked like. But then they did, and found it attractive anyway, and I was shocked. I didn’t know how to deal with this information, but eventually I took it to mean that I was maybe at least a little attractive. And that made me significantly happier.
Obviously, I don’t recommend this route to greater body positivity. It was so flawed and trouble ridden. Needing external sources of approval for your body is already inherently bad, but can lead to so many more devastating circumstances. For me, it led to an addiction-like need for sex, because the lack of it was devastating, and I couldn’t focus on anything else when I wanted it. It didn’t make me happy, either, almost every time, it left me feeling sad and strangely hollow, crying into my pillow. It felt terrible and I knew it was really bad for me, and I kept swearing to never do it again, but as much as I tried to not do it, I kept giving in. I stopped putting effort into making or maintaining friendships, until hook-ups were basically my only social interactions, a very lonely way to be a first semester college student.
Fortunately, I eventually realised this and connected the dots. I took a step back and realised that I needed to love, hell, at the very least accept, myself because of who I was, not because people wanted to have sex with me. Which, you know, should have been obvious, particularly given all the talks I’d had with other people about that and my general reputation of being a feminist killjoy. But it wasn’t, and that was really scary to accept. A lot of CAPS took me to a place where I could take a step back from everything and try to figure out ways to break the unhealthy pattern.
The first thing I did was get a vibrator. I did not think that was ideal, since it tied my worth to sex-things, but at least it was viewing myself and my body as sexual, and capable of feeling pleasure rather than being sexy and giving it, so I was A Real Live Human. It was also a comparatively easy thing to do, and an important step back from texting hook-ups when I knew it would be terrible for me to. Also, it was really fun. Vibrators are incredible and I love them and I could (and probably will) do an entire column about them, so I’m going to keep this short.
Vibrators revolutionised how I felt about my body. When I first started using them, I was a trans person who didn’t know the word for my gender and was flailing around, trying to be a cis girl, and sex, even the best kind, came with more than a hint of uncomfortable feminising of my body. Up until that point, masturbation felt like a replacement or copy of sex with other people, something that was meant to feel like The Real Deal and hence did the same thing. Vibrators changed this entirely. They were a way for my body to be sexual without being femme. Manual masturbation did not frequently lead to orgasms for me, and while sometimes, that was fine, other times it was very frustrating. Vibrators were 90% guaranteed pleasure I felt like I deserved. It was wonderfully freeing.
I was a lot more excited about my body, which meant I started looking at it more. Not with stomach sucked in and flattering clothes and scars and stretch marks hidden away, but naked in mirrors, often dancing. Not looking to see how sexy I could be, but how much fun I could have. That helped me decide that I really like clothes that are flowy and swoosh when I spin, websites advising me against them be damned. It also showed that I actually didn’t need anyone else present for my body to feel and be great!
It was a surprisingly large realisation for me that my body could be a source of happiness for me. I could do so much cool stuff with it! Like wear blue lipstick, or shave some of my hair and then have a fuzzy head I could pet if there was a shortage of puppies, or wear clothes that don’t match. Being less uncomfortable with my body made it so much easier to approach and pursue friendships with people who didn’t validate it by having sex with me, which led to an incredible support network of great humans.
Even though it sounds like that when I write it out, this hasn’t been anything close to a linear journey. It’s been very rollercoaster-like, affected by things like weight changes, general mental health levels, how cute my outfit feels that day, the weather, literally so many things. I feel vastly differently about my body from day to day, and I figured it was just random for a while, but I’ve been paying attention to the patterns, and the lows are definitely getting less low, and the highs more high.