Relearning Sexy (P. 4): Still Learning

When I met Rueben+, I realized why it felt so good to hide my hair and put eyeshadow in the wrong places. Rueben and I met online, where they had disclosed to me that they were trans. When I got to their place, we started talking and immediately hit it off. Since my first relationship with Nate+, Rueben was the only masculine person I had found myself attracted to. As they talked about how they felt growing up, body dysphoria, and why they wanted to pursue transition, it was like a light switch had suddenly been flicked on. When Rueben talked about their relationship with their body and the discomfort that dominated all of their intimate relationships, I knew.

Source: Emmett Patterson

Source: Emmett Patterson

Before I went to see them again, I told them that I thought I might be trans. They told me to come over in whatever clothing I felt comfortable in. That Friday night, I drove into  the predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in the city, wearing slim fitting jeans, sneakers, and a baseball t-shirt. As soon as I stepped out of the car, they ran over to me and offered me a yamaka. “It’s Shabbos. You’ll need this.” Looking back, I remember that this moment marked the first time someone had not only been accepting of my unapparent transness but had validated my experience in a very intentional way.

Someone had finally seen me.

This is when I began relearning sexy. In my personal experience, being sexy as a woman was very different than being sexy as a man. Before, I unashamedly used my body to get things I needed. I knew how to make my partners’ eyes grow as wide as dinner plates, simply with a look. When I began presenting masculinely (and by presenting masculinely, I mean looking like a distraught 12 year-old boy), I found that people didn’t look at me the same way. My partners’ eyes didn’t grow wide as easily as they once did. Learning masculine sensuality was (and is) incredibly difficult. This journey of navigating an identity I knew to be true in the form of a body that lacked the same certainty really began when I began dating Dylan+.

Source: Emmett Patterson

Source: Emmett Patterson

My relationship with Dylan was complex. Dylan had never dated a man before, nevertheless a trans man. Even when we did start dating, Dylan grappled with his sexuality. At the same time, I was grappling with mine. I constantly questioned whether Dylan saw me as the man I knew I was. I never felt sure, even when he said he did. I remember feeling more exposed than usual when we were intimate. Not only was I battling being a teenager, still new to navigating sex. I was also dealing with the constant fear that my partner was perceiving my body as female. Nothing kills your sex drive like constant body dysphoria.

After a long relationship, Dylan and I broke up for reasons unrelated to intimacy. When I threw myself back into the single world, a world I had left three years earlier, I was terrified. This would be the first time I was dating as an openly trans man. In the first few weeks after the breakup, I had casual flings with people I knew, people who affirmed me. At the end of the day, I felt more and more comfortable expressing my sexuality as a man even in intimate situations that would have terrified me before.

IMG_7993

Source: Emmett Patterson

Dating, romance, being intimate with someone? These experiences are still intimidating beyond belief. These are still my Everest’s to climb. The fear that no one will love me for who I am or will see my body as desirable still plague my mind. Internalized transphobia is a bitter pill to swallow and incredibly difficult to unlearn. I still spend some days looking in the mirror, finding the imperfections. The width of my hips. The patchy 5 o’clock shadow. Any number of flaws that I see. There are other days where I feel incredibly sexy. Where my body’s “imperfections” aren’t imperfect at all because I would never be me without them.

 

Author Laila Gifty Akita said, “Life is a continuous learning process. Each day presents an opportunity for learning.”

With each morning, I greet the day. I’m living.

And I’m certainly still learning.

+ Name has been changed.

The final post on desexy discusses how to create space to talk about our intimate experiences.

Relearning Sexy (P. 3): The Time In Between

I felt invincible.

One summer night, my parents were both working and out of the house. I loved being home alone, mostly because I refused to practice my music in the company of others. But this night, I was thankful to be alone for another reason. Ever since that intrusive thought had infiltrated my mind in gym class, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So, I took to my closet, hoping to find something to make me feel more at home in my body.

As I mentioned, I gravitated towards v-necks and form-fitting dresses. Not necessarily what you need when you’re trying to hide your chest. I found some older jeans buried in the back of my closet and slipped them on. I forced an ace bandage around my chest, not yet knowing how to bind my chest safely. Over top of the bandage, I layered a black t-shirt. My chest still looked too exposed to me. I dug around some more and found (ironically) an oversized Victoria’s Secret black hoodie. I threw it on as I headed into the bathroom. After pinning my hair up in my beanie, I completed my armor by smearing gray eyeshadow where my 5 o’clock shadow should have been.

Source: Emmett Patterson

Source: Emmett Patterson

I stared at myself for a long time. This was completely unlike the person everyone else saw at school or at work or in the pool. I felt like an entirely different person. Even though this picture makes me burst out in laughter when I look at it now, in that moment I felt so handsome it hurt. The faux eyeshadow beard and the Bieber-esque hair swoop are completely ridiculous now. But that night, it changed me.

All dressed up and nowhere to go? Absolutely not. I hopped in my car and drove to a gas station a few towns over. I was still afraid that someone would recognize me. I put gas in the car, never talking to a station attendant or another traveler on the road. It didn’t matter. Although my chest was constricted and I was hiding in plain sight, I felt like I was finally free and could breathe easy for the first time in a long time.

IMG_2037

Source: Emmett Patterson

The next few weeks at school, I began binding and presenting more masculinely. Part of this storytelling project is finding pictures of myself from “the time in between.” I thought only I noticed that I was spending time in between. But before long, my parents and friends took notice. I knew I had to begin telling my loved ones how I truly felt. During this time, I began mandatory gender counseling, just one of the requirements trans people have to undergo in order to access legal document changes, hormones, surgeries, you name it. As part of this counseling, I had to look back on my life and try to pinpoint any feelings of gender nonconformity. If you’ve never tried it, think about what your favorite food was in May of the year you were 5 years old. Now, your parents may be able to tell you what it was. That’s a fact. But do you remember how that favorite food made you feel?

That’s what is so difficult about looking back on our experiences. When I thought back, I couldn’t think of any feelings of gender nonconformity in my childhood. I could only see the facts. Yes, I hated dresses. Yes, I made friends with boys more than girls. Yes, I portrayed what outsiders might call gender nonconformity. But was I ever cognizant of how these rebellions against femininity affected my gender? Not that I can think of.

But when I looked to more recent years, I found my intimate relationships coupled with my discomfort with certain parts of my body played a key role in my identity formation. Not every trans person’s experience is the same. But for me, the source of my discomfort came from these sources. Sitting in the armchair of my therapist’s office, I recounted times where I just felt discomfort being with Nate+. The reason I broke up with Nate in the first place was because I assumed this discomfort had to do with my sexual orientation.

“Oh. If I’m not attracted to him, I must be attracted to women.”

For the next year, I dated mostly female-identified people. I still felt uncomfortable when I was intimate with my partners. I had partners who loved me because I was extremely femme. That made me uncomfortable. I had partners who said their favorite asset of mine was my chest. That made me uncomfortable. I had partners who refused to let me wear my binder went to bed. That made me more than uncomfortable. I was exploring women as a queer woman and I still couldn’t find solace. I could never pinpoint the source of the discomfort.

That is, until I met Rueben+.

Find out more next time on the final installment of Relearning Sexy.

Next on desexy, how to create truly inclusive and sex-positive sex education.

Relearning Sexy (P. 2): Four Square Epiphanies

Source: Emmett Patterson

Source: Emmett Patterson

With an hourglass figure and a confident sensuality in my step that would make a pin up girl blush, I strode through the beginning years of high school confident with my body. As a competitive swimmer, I prided myself on my toned body, conditioned from hours of practice. I loved the power that my body had. I felt sensual and powerful all at once. In turn, I channeled that sense of power through high femme gender presentation, a killer strut, and some serious attitude.

As I mentioned in the last installment of Relearning Sexy, my presentation changed drastically when I entered into my first serious relationship at the start of my high school career. I hung up the hoodies and gym shorts and slid into the most form-fitting of dresses and the skinniest of jeans that I could get my hands on. In hindsight, I don’t know if entering my relationship with Nate+ caused this shift. I can imagine at the time, I might have felt pressures to be more feminine because I was in a (what others thought was) heterosexual relationship. Maybe this shift occurred because of the cataclysmic warning of my family friend to “grow up.” Maybe at that moment in my life, I was just redefining what comfortable meant to me.

Source: Emmett Patterson

Source: Emmett Patterson

There’s a lot of maybes in this story. At this point in my life, I can remember only few specifics. Telling a story about the person you used to be can be rife with inaccuracies. While it may be easy to point out “facts,” I think it’s more difficult to remember how you were feeling at any given moment. That feeling is so critical to how I remember and tell this story. So, I look to the facts and try to interpret what I may have been feeling at that moment. No story, especially those about ourselves or the people we used to be, can ever accurately capture how we may have felt in one particular moment.

But I distinctly remember how I felt on one day late in my junior year. It was an ordinary day in gym class. I was absolutely destroying my opponents in foursquare. Business as usual. Although my school had co-ed gym classes, the class seemed to segregate itself. Four square was a predominantly male-dominated corner of the gym that I gravitated towards. As I advanced quickly to the king’s square, I continued to strike people out.

One stray spike sent the ball flying across the gym. As I jogged to reach it, I noticed my body feeling heavier than usual. I was about 100 yards from the ball. For some reason, I started feeling exposed, like in that dream where you’re standing on a stage (or, you know, jogging through the middle of a crowded gymnasium) in nothing but your underwear. Suddenly, a thought shot forward into the front of my mind: “Wow, my chest is huge.” Standing in the middle of the gym’s paneled floor, my stride and my world came to a screeching halt.

Where the hell did that come from?

Source: Emmett Patterson

Source: Emmett Patterson

Every time I tell my coming out story, I struggle to find the origin of where I began to understand that I wasn’t a woman. I look into the arsenal of memories I have, from childhood up until the first night I purposefully dressed to look like a man. But this day in the gym stands out in my mind as the origin of this questioning. As I stood alone in the gym, long after my classmates had shuffled off to their next classes, I knew something wasn’t right. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

On the next installment of Relearning SexyI talk about about the beginnings of my identity exploration and the impact that my partners had on me.

Next time on desexy, how does dehumanization impact perceptions of disabled sexuality?

 + Name has been changed.

Relearning Sexy (P. 1): The Franklin Conundrum

Source: Wikipedia

“I swear. I look like Benjamin Franklin in my middle school yearbook pictures.”

This one sentence sums up my entire experience of adolescent puberty. Shoulder length wavy hair, unkempt eyebrows, and thick-rimmed glasses (my bifocals) served as the markers for this self-reflective characterization. Joking about my uncanny physical similarity to one of America’s Founding Fathers not only entertains my friends but allows me to process the history of my gender expression through humor.

Looking back, I spent my middle school days exclusively wearing basketball shorts and a swim team hoodie, paired with (to my mother’s dismay) flip flops, no matter if the days were sunny or if it had snowed six-inches the night before. Interestingly, I presented more masculinely during my pre-adolescent years than I did before I began identifying as a trans man.

Rarely do I ever have the chance to think about my gender expression in my adolescent years. In my experience, understanding my gender identity as one outside of “woman” really began when I was almost 17 years old, which will be discussed later in Relearning Sexy. Prior to that, I cannot think of any moments in my life where I felt hyperaware of any gender identity. Yes, I went through a time in my life where I rolled my eyes in defiance when I was asked to wear a dress. I loathed the color pink. Someone might point to these instances of not conforming to femininity as a “sign” of my forthcoming trans-ness. But I never felt aware of how my expression did (or did not) impact my gender identity. For me, the hoodie, the basketball shorts, and even the flip flops were just practical and comfortable, the byproduct of being a student athlete.

Source: Image Arcade

Source: Image Arcade

But looking back, maybe my gender nonconformity did impact how I was being perceived by my peers sexually. I rarely found myself desirable to boys my age. Rather, I found that they viewed me in more of a friend role. When I did try to express my desire for a romantic relationship, I was shut down. I remember being told that I wasn’t “feminine” enough to be considered a girlfriend. A family friend warned me that in high school, I wouldn’t get away with wearing what made me feel comfortable. They told me I should “grow up” and “stop wearing boy’s clothes.” These experiences of rejection and negative comments about my appearance really impacted my overall body self-satisfaction, impeding my ability to see my body as sexually desirable.

An important part of my awareness of my trans identity lies in how I discovered myself. Every trans person’s experience of identity awakening is different. For me, my sexuality and how I interacted with my romantic and sexual partners influenced how I interpreted my gender identity. My gender presentation changed when I began dating my first serious boyfriend, Nate+, at the beginning of high school. My presentation shifted from masculinely gender nonconforming to ultra femme as quickly as the lightning-struck key on Mr. Franklin’s kite ignited the night sky. I will be discussing this drastic shift in the next installment of Relearning Sexy.

Coming up next, examining the impact of sexualized desexualization on women of color.

+ Name has been changed.