Is all of this a burden? Well, as the blog title implies, it does seem a bit much at times. And a lot of what I have to say is about the ridiculous repression I’ve struggled with over the past few decades. But it’s also a blessing. After all, to have a nuanced reaction like that to seeing someone on the street is something I find pretty exciting? (At least, now I can find it exciting. For much of my life I found it exciting, but was also very confused and conflicted about it.)
Having to ponder my own conflicting ideas has lead me to a much greater understanding of my own gender/sex/kink roles. And for me, at least, they are roles, although for most people they’re so rooted that they don’t see them as such, but as immutable core identities.
By an incredible stroke of luck, I am recently involved with a lover who has spent most of her life identifying as a lesbian, and often a fairly butch one. Like me, she has a complex view of gender and sexuality, and some part of her is a very straight, submissive, feminine woman. She’s in a place now where she wants to experience that role more, and that, of course, clicks perfectly with my dominant masculine role. We’re a great fit that way.
Someone watching us walk down the street, her in heels and a skirt, me dressed very “boy”, might think we are a very traditional couple. (Archaicly traditional, since it is fortunately no longer the expectation that the man must dominate the woman.) But traditional? — we’re as nontraditional as you can get; she’s gay, more or less, and I’m trans, or near enough. True, we’ve chosen to play “traditional” roles that with each other, and they work well, meshing together and strengthening as we play them. But they are explicitly chosen, and we’ve discussed that fact at some length. They’re certainly not the only roles we have, and they’re not necessarily permanent. Either of us might take a different role in another situation, or with another lover. But with her, for now, I get to act out the second set of sliders in a way that is safe and comfortable (and a tremenous amount of fun).
I wonder about people who haven’t needed to work out their own sex and gender roles. I’m a tiny bit jealous of the ease with which they move through life, but I wonder about the honesty of it all. How often is a straight man a straight man because he thought about the possibilities and settled on that one? or did it just feel right without ever needing to consider other options? or (as I suspect is the case) is there so much social and media pressure to fit a narrow set of gender stereotypes that most people have never been able to consider anything else? How much of life is what we choose it to be, and how much are we just going along with?
But now I think I’m getting ahead of my story.
Last time I made the case that I’m a dominant straight man. (I thought it was rather convincing, myself.) That’s certainly not so rare in our society (we might wish that it were a bit rarer, in fact). So why am I so conflicted about it that I need to tell this story?
I have very little sense of how other people feel inside, of how their own experience of gender and sexuality play out in their head. I imagine that most people have a fairly well integrated view of themselves; that they have a single view of who they are as a person. In fact, I suspect that most people have never considered their own view of themselves — they are who they are. (Who else would they be?)
For myself, growing up questioning every aspect of my own gender and sexuality, it’s not so simple. I am reminded of the line by F. Scott Fitzgerald,
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
Of course, I’m not talking about intelligence, but the idea is similar — those of us who are extremely sex/gender complex have certainly been forced to ponder our own opposed ideas, and have had to learn to hold disparate views of ourselves in mind.
Last time I said that I’m a man — that is, that I have XY genes (presumably; I’ve never checked). In terms of the gender and kink sliders, I identified like this:
But at the same time, there is a good portion of me that is extremely feminine, and desperately submissive. This part of me could be represented by this set of sliders,
(Note that in both cases it’s masculine/dom and feminine/sub; that just seems to be the dynamic that I am wired for. I’ll have more to say about that another time.)
There are many more combinations of sex/gender/orientation/kink, but these are the two that have carved out territory in my psyche. You can imagine how difficult it was, growing up with these two very different perspectives, almost equally strong.
The idea that I can hold a couple of viewpoints explains a lot. For example, when I see a beautiful woman on the street, I have a strong reaction that I’ve never clearly been able to tease apart: Do I want to fuck her, or do I want to be her? Well, naturally, I want both at once.
After all that dry theory, it seems time to take a more explicit approach. After all, no one will want to read a blog about kink without a little sex thrown in, right?
So, where do I stand now?
I’m a man — and, after years of being a “nice guy”, the kind of nice guy who finishes last, I’ve shed most of that role. I’m still nice, and friendly, and charming, but I’m dominant, and I get that point across.
I like sex. Let’s be more direct: I like fucking women. Hell, I just like women. Sometimes I think I’d as soon look at them on the street as hit the sack. But that’s not true: I definitely like fucking women. I like making them come, making them moan and shake, and I’m extremely patient and cooperative and dexterous. But more, I like pushing a woman down on the bed, holding her hands above her head helplessly while entering her. I like turning her around and fucking her from behind, such an animalistic and, yes, a very submissive position.
I range from dominant to sadistic. One of my favorite moments in recent memory was grabbing my date and shoving her up against a chain-link fence as we were walking by, my body pressed hard against hers as the fence rebounded; she, only mildly submissive, let out a quiet but absolutely desperate moan. I love submission. I once had a girlfriend trained so that, as soon as I turned her around on the bed and before I entered her, she instinctively reached her hands behind her back so I could cuff them before I fucked her. At one time, I was beating my girlfriend with my (vegan) leather belt regularly, far more than I actually wore the thing. I still think of her and those times fondly, on the rare days when I get dressed up enough for a belt.
I love the curves of a woman, especially her legs, but I have recently become a bit obsessed with breasts (due to dating a wonderfully-endowed wonderful woman). I love women wearing feminine outfits, or lingerie, and heels – especially heels. I am downright fetishistic about anything feminine.
And most of all, I love the dynamic of a submissive woman and dominant man: Her desire to please, her willingness to be used. (Even better, but rarer, is that genuine desire to be used and humiliated and hurt for the dominant’s pleasure.) Sex from behind is wonderful, but by far my favorite is oral: Standing in front of a kneeling woman, holding her head, feeling her swallow frantically, the perfect symbol of submission.
In my last post, I said I was a dominant straight man. I think I’ve made my case.
This story starts with repression, of course, and that’s about all I’ve had to say so far. (Maybe I’m a little bitter about it.) But let’s move beyond that for a bit, and give away a bit of the ending of the saga that is my sexual development.
Where do I stand right now? I’d like to present it in terms of spectra. This is important background for the way I think about sex and gender, so bear with me if it’s a little dry. I promise the next one will be good and explicit.
Humans use a lot of ways to classify people, for good or for bad. Gender is one of the most important, and usually one of the most visible. Most people think of “gender” as a polite word for “sex”, but the two are not equivalent. Biological sex is generally set by your chromosomes, and is broadly dimorphic — about 99% of people are clearly male or female sex.
In the real world, of course, it’s nowhere near that simple. A surprisingly high percentage — perhaps 1% of births — are not obvious. Sometimes this is the result of an unusual chromosomal pattern,
That seems clear enough. But biology is messy, and there are a lot of ways for sexual development to be more complicated. For example, some XX or XY people have mutations in genes that create, metabolize, or respond to sex hormones like testosterone or estrogen. These people often have biological sex that is neither clearly male or clearly female. All sorts of other biological changes can result in an intersexed condition, and it’s nowhere near as rare as you’d think. (Many intersex births are quickly “fixed” one way or the other immediately after birth, and those people forced into a dimorphic gender role. Many of them end up being female, mostly because it’s easier to cut parts off than add them on — but of course, male and female development paths are a lot more complex than whether the obstetrician thinks the external genitalia look ok.) A truer sex categorization might look more like this:
These are just the top possibilities, and there are many more. So it seems that even sex, which we think is straightforward, turns out to be complicated. Gender is much, much more so. Although sex and gender are highly correlated, gender is something altogether different: the socially constructed presentation of your sexual role. And gender is nowhere near dimorphic; just consider all the tomboy girls you knew as a kid, or compare an effeminate man with an NFL jock. There is a huge range of gender possibilities. Instead of categories, we could start by representing it with a little slider:
Beyond the slider, of course, there are still more possibilities, and some activists will reject the slider as far too limiting. Fair enough! But it’s a simple way of representing the range of possibilities within which most of us fall, from girly-girl to macho man. (Even genderqueer activists often fall somewhere near the middle, or switch from one side to the other, or incorporate aspects of both ends of the slider at once — more about this soon.) Of course, it’s true that most men are somewhere on the “masculine” side of the slider, and most women fall towards the “feminine” side. That’s just a description, not a judgment or a model of how things necessarily ought to be.
Let’s move on. The next obvious way we classify people sexually is through a judgement of their sexual preference. Again, this is much more like a broad spectrum than a simple choice, and a great many people fall somewhere in the middle.
We tend to take it for granted that there’s a spectrum of sexual orientation, so this one is pretty obvious. For example, Kinsey ranked people along this spectrum from 0 (straight) to 6 (gay). Again, these don’t need to be correlated with the “sex” categories or the “gender” slider: There are plenty of gay but very masculine women, but there are also straight masculine women, and there are XY (male sex) people who live life as women, some of whom date men, and some of whom date women… and so on. It’s a wide, wide, wonderful world, and it includes just about everything you can think of.
Finally, I want to describe one more category that is usually hidden, but which, at least for some of us, is absolutely critical to our own sexual self-identification:
Although rarely talked about out loud, the dominant/submissive split is deeply ingrained into our culture. Just as most of us expect that sex and gender are different words for the same thing, most of our culture assumes that men are dominant, and women submissive. (Just consider the sexual dynamics in virtually every movie ever made.)
This slider is much less important than the previous two for most people. For many, it represents simply an <i>aspect</i> of the masculine/feminine distinction. Of course, for us kinky folk, this slider is critically important, and a source of much complication, a great deal of joy, and, often, a lot of pain — and I’m talking about both the good and the bad types of pain. A quick web search for dominant mistresses and submissive men should be sufficient to convince the reader that the dom/sub slider need not be in any way attached to gender expression for any one individual.
So, where am I? After 35 years of thinking about this, the three sliders above are approximately my positions, most of the time. But don’t think of them as immutable! Except for sex, which is biologically based and doesn’t change much, the other sliders can vary. (That doesn’t mean that everything is a choice.) It took me took me 35 years to get through the ache of gender confusion and decide where I stood; but it’s possible that I could have chosen otherwise, and I still might. And, in fact, my sense of my own gender identity often puts me in a couple different places at once: The “masculine” slider above is just the state you’ll be most likely to find me in. Similarly, it took me most of the past few decades to recognize the kink streak in me — that’s a bit surprising, since it’s a mile wide — and to come to terms with it. Much more about that, soon, as well.
For now… you might think I’m a straight dominant masculine man. And you’d be right, sometimes, but there’s much more under the surface.
I don’t breathe during sex. I never have. It’s freaked out more than one lover who’s felt the need to check that I hadn’t, like some human praying mantis, lost my brain function but continued to thrust, or who felt compelled to comment on it and ask if her own exaltations bothered me. Hell yeah, I’m self-conscious about it. Even at the doctor’s office, when the cold disk of the stethescope is pressed to my back and I’m told to exhale, what comes out is a nervous shuddering string of gasps. I’ve always assumed that everyone else can breathe out strongly and smoothly; and each time, I worry that the doctor will inquire about my ragged breathing, and then I’ll have to come up with a pathetic but plausible excuse. I certainly don’t want to have to explain that it comes from a childhood spent masturbating silently, from years training myself to hold my breath while I shoved against the bed, from the dizzying attempt to silently gasp down oxygen without alerting the adults who sat and read downstairs. It’d be great if all that practice had translated into something useful, like an ability to dive for pearls. Sadly, I can’t swim a lick. But repressed? It goes down to my very lungs.
I have a box within which I keep my gender confusion. (My gender confusion is only one of a number of interconnected issues with which I struggle, but it serves as a convenient example.) It’s a large cardboard box that was originally used for storing a great many toilet paper rolls; every once in a while I replace it with a newer one less likely to tear while I’m moving, dumping my gender confusion all over the sidewalk. The box is lined with an old sheet, and sealed tightly with packing tape. Inside the box, wrapped in the old sheet, is a very miscellaneous and incomplete collection of women’s clothes. There is a strong focus on lingerie, particularly very small and lacy lingerie, but there are also a number of very nice skirts in different styles (including a gorgeous leather mini), a few tops and sweaters, and a couple of great dresses. At different times I’ve tried to arrange them carefully to prevent wrinkling, but it’s hopeless. Most of these clothes have been in the box for a decade; some closer to two.
I’ve been dressing up as long as I can remember, and hiding that fact obsessively exactly as long as that. Lots of men crossdress, but aside from some obvious and extremely campy examples, it’s one of our culture’s most hidden secrets. I have no idea how other men feel about their own crossdressing, but it has been my deepest secret for at least three decades.
It would be bad enough, I imagine, for your friends to tease you for wanting to wear stockings. It’s even worse, I can assure you, if you’re a shy uncertain boy who wonders whether he should have been a girl. Now crossdressing is no longer an aesthetic, or sexual, or fetish choice: instead, it points directly to insecurity about your gender identity. And in this culture, if you’re not sure of your gender identity, what else is there? Gender is at the core of how we identify — a terrible problem in itself, about which I will have much to say — and growing up without a clear sense of gender is like balancing the rest of your life on a jack-in-the-box. During my first decade, I had built a tenuous sense of myself as a boy — albeit an awkward, misfit boy full of some very un-boy-like thoughts. It was enough of a hook — just barely enough — to hang the rest of my social identity on, and I watched it constantly for signs that it was coming loose. Crossdressing was a form of gender expression and experiment for me, but it came with a substantial risk. The discovery of my hidden habit would, I feared, give the lie to my doubtful claim to gender, collapsing in turn my entire delicately-balanced identity, leaving me rootless and entirely undefined. I expected that I’d vanish into the aether, or drift away at the next breeze.
So the crossdressing was carefully contained; it had to be, for it was the rickety card table under my identity’s house of cards. I had to be careful not to acknowledge it in any way. When I was 9, my friend Tim dressed as a girl for Halloween — nothing flashy; a gingham dress and a wig. I was desperately jealous, and spent months wondering if there was a way that I could pull it off the next year. There was not. To suggest it, to admit any interest, to even acknowledge that I had noticed the costume, might somehow be a signal that mom, or dad, or my sister might read, which would lead inevitably to the evaporation of my identity. There was no middle ground — there could be no middle ground — and so I studiously avoided the idea of crossdressing in any form. (“Tootsie” came out when I was 12, and I made a point of never showing any interest in it. I’ve still never seen it.) All the while, I was sneaking into my sister’s room to model her skirts on the rare occasion that I had the house to myself.
Now it’s 30 years later, and the crossdressing is still in a box, a cardboard box, hidden under my dresser. I’ve made a lot of progress on my gender identity and sexual issues, to be sure. But there’s still that lingering sense that someone who knew about my crossdressing would thereby gain the power to strip down my entire identity. So I hide it. Even when I’ve talked to good friends or lovers about sexual identity, kink, and gender identity, it’s the crossdressing I find hardest to admit.
Lately I’ve been trying to be more open about it, at least with myself. When I moved to my own apartment, I unpacked my favorite items (including some very hot lingerie) into a dresser drawer, and I like to leave the drawer open a few inches on purpose, so that even if I’m male in the rest of my daily life, I’m forced to confront my own gender identity on a regular basis. (Of course, it helps a lot that I love looking at lingerie.) Knowing that the drawer is open when I’m sitting at work leaves me feeling a little vulnerable. What if my downstairs neighbors call me to borrow something that could only be found in my room, and I have to tell them to let themselves in and get it? What if there’s a fire, and the fire crews or the landlord or the insurance adjuster go through the room? But coming to terms with that vulnerability is, I think, part of the process of coming to terms with my gender identity.
I’ve got a long way to go. The day before my long-distance lover came to visit, despite our having talked in general terms about this issue, I promptly packed up the drawer back into the box, and sealed it. When she left, I waited a few days, and then I unpacked it again. I don’t feel a need to be too out — I don’t want to talk to strangers, or even most of my friends, about crossdressing or gender identity or kink. But it’d be nice not to have to hide it from myself. If I could, for example, hang up my dresses in the closet, not worrying about the risk to my delicate gender identity, I might feel a little less repressed. So far, I can’t bring myself to face that level of vulnerability. As much as I’d love to move my clothes into the closet, I think it’d make me feel exposed and paranoid. For now, they stay in the box, with one drawer open a few inches so that part of me can breathe.
It’s a great metaphor, I suppose, but unfortunately I’m being entirely literal. I present as a straight boy, but I have deeply rooted gender issues, and people with gender issues — the transfolk, the intersexed — have always been slow to benefit from the progress of the queer movement. Gays moved out of the closet long ago, thankfully. But from my point of view, the closet would be a big improvement. I’m still living in a taped-up cardboard box.