Freeing the phallus of itself
By the time I was prescribed feminizing hormone replacement therapy I was thoroughly exhausted by what I had then perceived as my excessively over-active libido, in spite of my sexual partners insisting that as far as they were concerned, the extent of my libidinal drive was normal. But I could never stop feeling like something about it was excessive and ultimately unfulfilling even if giving in to it felt physically or psychologically pleasurable. I was pretty much ready to have my libido tank with the introduction of anti-androgens/testosterone blockers, and with a subtle nihilistic frenzy, openly embraced the anticipated cessation of my capacity to have sex.
It’s been a bit over half a year now and while a lot of my libido did tank, it didn’t drop as much as I thought it would even as my HRT dosage rose. While there is a noticeable drop in a sense of “urgency” and “necessity” for satiation, the more significant change has been the actual way my sexual drive expresses itself. Rather than being physically and psychologically oriented around the phallus and the fulfillment of ejaculation, I find myself much more drawn to the multitude of new erogenous zones that are flowering throughout my body and growing in spatial extent from zones that previously existed. Rather than being more or less centralized to the tip of the head (of the penis) my erotic sensations are distributed among the many different centers.
While the phallus is no longer the “transcendental signifier” that determines the nature and order of the beginning, middle, and end of any given sexual act, neither is it entirely rejected. Instead, it becomes wrapped up in the envelope of my disparate but networked sensations, becoming merely one member among many in a matrix that makes space for them all. I can’t deny that it still reserves a significant function, in that it can rapidly accumulate erotic sensations at a more efficient rate than the other zones, which can then be channeled or redistributed throughout the network when working in tandem with the stimulation of other zones (anus, prostate, perineum, testes, inguinal canal, breasts and nipples, inner thighs, butt, etc.) But it is no longer capable of being the supreme regulating principle that conditions the terms of play in all other zones; it’s psychologically difficult to use it in that overarching way because it reminds me of all the times where I felt like I had to use my penis that way just because I was perceived as a male who had one, and it’s physically difficult at this point because it actually hurts a little to be fully erect and definitely hurts if too much attention and stimulation are given to it.
When I had what one might call a “properly functioning” penis (or just more accurately: my penis before feminizing HRT) the shift from a non-horny state to a horny state was a lot more immediate and discrete. Nowadays there is a lot more ambiguity there, not just through an increase in the spectral grade between non-horny and horny, but also by an indeterminacy in whether or not a given sensual moment could be classified as horny or not-horny. I can’t pretend, somewhat absurdly, that there is no difference at all between moments of horniness and non-horniness since there are definitely moments where I am horny and moments where I am not. But there is a greater intimacy that I have with myself and my surroundings that makes apparent that the distinction between non-horny and horny is somewhat arbitrary. When am I not trying to consummate a relation of union with an other, whether subjectively with myself or objectively with someone else? Even when I am trying to avoid myself or some other, I am only further defining my relationship with them.
Before feminizing HRT, whether I actively thought about it or not, the end goal of sex ended up being the ejaculative climax: it functioned as the teleological condition that retroactively endows all preceding moments of sexual activity their necessary reason for being. From beginning to middle to end, the entire process is self-centered around the anticipated moment of “finishing”, with the other person being merely a means to my own end. It didn’t matter that this sexual conduct was contrary to my values, I just was never taught, never learned nor encouraged to have sex differently.
The ironic thing is that as self-centered as that was, I was always subtly alienated from myself, feeling physical pleasure but feeling constantly unfulfilled and even shame. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that my partners quite enjoyed this kind of phallocentric performance, even preferring it over all others. Even in ostensibly queer relationships, I found myself performing this way, as a virile male made to deposit seed into a fertile female. I don’t mean to use this language to denigrate those relationships, which were always beautiful and remain close to my heart, I’m just pointing out the constancy of this alienating experience I’ve had with my body regardless of whether or not the relationship configuration was conventional or unconventional, “straight” or “gay.”
It doesn’t technically matter if I never actually ejaculated at climax prior to HRT, because the very possibility that it could happen would configure the entire sexual relation on those terms, even if the underlying notion never came to actual fruition. So my emphasis on ejaculative climax being the transcendental ordering principle of all phallocentric sex isn’t to suggest that I was always actually looking to, or actually ended up finishing with, ejaculation at the end of every given instance of sex. I’m merely emphasizing that regardless of its presence or absence, the assumption of its very possibility orders the rules of sex.
Now that I’m on HRT, my experience with what the “purpose” of sex is has changed. Or even the idea of what it means to give a “purpose” to sex has changed: there is no ultimate purpose to any given moment of sexual intimacy other than what is endowed to it on the basis of that very moment. Sex doesn’t lose its purposive character: it just means that the “purpose” of any stream of moments can adapt to the needs of changing conditions. No longer confined to the universal dictates of a particular regime of sex, sex opens up as a space of exploration and play. Sex is no longer configured by modified repetitions of the same act, but creative syntheses of many different acts.
While I no longer feel the same “kind” of libidinal drive as I used to, and hence no longer have the physical impulses and drives me to have sex in that phallocentric way, I am still experiencing the psychic consequences of that habitus that has ruled my life for so long. I still find myself assuming that that is the way sex is, and I sometimes find myself perplexed when I get a sense of ease knowing that sex does not have to be that way. It’s almost like my mind is still lagging behind my body, not being able to make sense of this newfound bliss since alienated torment was all it knew for so long. The curious thing about this minor lag is that it allows me to see a difference between the surface level of my mind that still identifies with its trauma and the deeper part of my mind that just knows in its heart that everything is ok, and that this deeper part is actually intelligently aware. My thinking mind might fret and get confused, but this embodied intelligence knows how things really are. I can give all my trust to it, even when the thinking mind wants to do the exact opposite.
I get melancholic when I think about how people will start to relate to me differently since no one can make me use my penis “properly” anymore. I’m not just becoming accustomed to but thoroughly embrace this new condition because I can now access an intimacy deeper than I ever have before, yet I’m not sure if many people know what to do with someone like me. I’m a woman with a pharmacologically feminized body sure, but not a cis female, and believe it or not that makes a big difference even to those who consider themselves trans-inclusive. This does seem to make dating a bit more complicated than it has to be (it was a lot more consistent and predictable when I presented as a man before), and sometimes I encounter someone who is very interested in me but can’t make up their mind about me. Sometimes I wonder if people avoid getting too intimate with me because they anticipate the complications that could potentially follow. If only they knew that it’s only as complicated as you make it out to be…love, however precious, deep, or elusive it can be, is actually pretty simple.
While it is liberating to be free from phallocentric desire, there’s a deep sorrow that accompanies this liberation when you see that those around you don’t know it. Cis or trans, straight or queer, assigned male at birth or assigned female at birth, we are all taught and conditioned to think of and prefer sex with a penis that proceeds in one way and that way only. For so long I’ve craved a liberated mode of sex before I even knew it was truly possible, but somehow my sexual partners were never able to reciprocate in any way other than making use of me in that one way penises are made to be used, as teleologically conditioned by the expectation of penetrative climax. Even with sexual partners (like insecure cis men) who wanted to entirely avoid my penis implicitly define it as that which has the potential to function in the penetrative way. Knowing how much I didn’t know before about what I know now, and knowing that others must also not know in the same way I did not know, pains me because I know that we could be doing so much better than this. We all deeply want real intimacy while also being too scared to be vulnerable enough to feel it. So instead we produce a simulacrum of it created by the rote procedures of a script revolving around the advance of a single lead character.
Sometimes this sorrow makes me yearn to go back to past ignorance, to forget this sublime mode of liberated sex in order to return to what’s most familiar, in order to make it possibly easier to become involved with someone who only knows how to have sex with a penis that one way. I start to think perhaps I can take less anti-androgens, or alternative anti-androgens than the ones I am taking to preserve “proper” functioning. But that deeper, intelligently aware part of me knows that these ideas are fleeting and are merely the result of past conditioning and have no real basis beyond my anxiety over how to deal with this new state of affairs.
Perhaps one day I will meet another like me, who knows what I know, that a penis makes no real difference unless it makes a difference to you. Meeting someone like that would make a huge difference to me, because up to this point I have not had sex with someone else in the liberatory mode of sex that I experience with myself. Now, this begs the question as to whether or not sex with myself actually counts as sex. The funny thing is that from the perspective I had about sex before HRT, I wouldn’t count sex with myself as sex, but from my new perspective on sex it does seem to count. When liberated from phallocentric desire, sex is just a means to intimacy regardless of whether this is intimacy found alone or with another. In theory, I would expect that liberated sex with another is only different in degree from liberated sex with oneself and not different in kind, though I wouldn’t be surprised if in practice it did eventually feel different in kind. That would be wonderful.
It takes a lot more work these days to summon the full intensity of eros, but she’s significantly more sustainable and fulfilling in this form, allowing me to feel genuinely at home in my body, a body with its boundaries blurred by the glimmering flux of sensuous sense. Where I used to feel shame at the termination of any given instance of sex, I now can’t help but be in awe of how it’s possible to experience the joy of sex at all! I marvel at this power, where at its full measure, my reverberating polyvalent orgasms bloom as the play of divines miracles, my vase body a sacred abode of the union of Sun and Moon, my toes impossibly curling into themselves in fractal ecstasy, my mind in love, in awe. Knowing no real terminus (and thus no real origin), liberated sex is all sex (whether this is manifest or not) and everything is sex, but in the most intimate of ways.
It is unclear to me the degree to which the changes I have experienced over my view and conduct of sex can be explained in terms of the effects of feminizing HRT. Undoubtedly HRT catalyzed a great deal of changes in my physiology and psychology, and the way it effects my penis does significantly influence how I see sex. But the interesting thing about the character of my new perspective on sex is that I can’t see an absolutely necessary connection between feminine hormones and liberated sex. In its essence it feels like an embodied relationship that one has with oneself or another, and so it can conceivably exist without feminine hormones.
But I cannot personally verify this because I cannot go back to a previous state in which feminine hormones have not yet affected me, and even if I could I would not want to do that since that would mean reversing a lot of what I’ve achieved up to this point. For some reason or another, I had to go through this journey of spiritual psycho-somatic transformation in order to realize liberated sex, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to. I dream of a world were men too can experience a non-phallocentric mode of sex without needing to change anything about themselves. Then maybe they can realize that they already have what they so desperately seek from others, and become intimate with their own, openly empty nature.
May all beings know the immeasurable
love, care, joy and peace of liberated sex,
which is the basic nature of all sex,
a consummate union
of rapturous bliss and selfless awareness.