Baby Problem Steps: Porn Edition

CN: Discussion of masturbation and pornography.  Probably NSFW.  Links whose destinations you don’t recognize are definitely NSFW.

I wrote recently about how I recognize the importance of the media that made me the atheist I am today even as I acknowledge its glaring flaws, because it filled the particular void I had.  I meant that discussion to be a lead-in for this one, but it took on a life of its own.

Something I’ve been mulling over for a long time is the relationship between my transition and my sexuality.  Most of the earliest memories that I now recognize as early signs of transness involved fantasies of being feminine and beautiful, which rapidly became sexualized.  My early relationship to feminine clothing was similar.  Sometimes I fantasized about being specific women I’d met, other times simply morphing my features into a softer, rounder form.  These variations rapidly became topmost in my mind, to the point that it took twice as much focus to use any other fantasy to pleasure myself.  On occasion, I had to fight my own mind to focus on my lovers while I was having sex with them, because this fantasy was so potent that it placed itself at the fore of my entire sexual response.  I was terrified that I’d lose the ability to enjoy any sex that wasn’t a magical transformation event if I did not force myself to try.  I tried to habituate myself to the mundane out of despair that the magical would never come.

This showed itself in my taste in pornography as well.  From the start I found most ordinary pornography distasteful.  Where I made use of images at all, I used images of women in lingerie, bathing suits, or other revealing clothing, such as gravure idols.  Clothing was a focus of my attention, part of the pleasure.  Actual nudity was, for years, too intense for me, somehow, and I faced the activities depicted in conventional pornography with vague horror.  When I did finally find a genre of pornography that had my eager attention, it was teasing videos.  I watched videos of women pleasuring themselves slowly and methodically, with or without toys, and I imagined myself doing the same, in their bodies, in their clothes.  I still fantasized on occasion about bedding attractive women, but rarely with the same vigor or enthusiasm.

I feel no shame at that phase of my sexual evolution, even as I now feel a little embarrassed that I could go through all of that without recognizing its underlying cause.  I detested and still draw nothing from porn featuring men because it is, by and large, for men, and its cinematic perspective assumes that of its audience.  Porn works best when one identifies with, and imagines themselves as, one of the participants.  As a lesbian experiencing unknown dysphoria, I wasn’t identifying with the man, nor could I vicariously enjoy the woman’s experience of bedding someone I faced with disgust (which was, of course, framed for male viewers anyway).  I was neither a man nor sexually attracted to men, so there wasn’t anything there for me.

One way or another, I found my way to still stranger corners of the Internet.  My fondness for occupying a woman’s body wasn’t limited to mental scenarios, and I was similarly drawn to media depicting such changes.  Following that trail led to a whole genre of gender-transformation-themed erotic fantasy.  Between the seven or eight sources I came to frequent, I could find transformation stories with every shade of interpersonal depth, nudity, eroticism, in-universe explanation, and length that I cared to, as videos, graphic novellas, captioned images, portfolios, or (most originally) imaginative subtitles applied to other video.  The particular focus of each story could vary: the physical transformation itself, trying on clothes, new sexual urges, changed relationships with other men and women, or, often, some combination thereof in a story nominally about superheroes, wizards, private detectives, scientists, Santa Claus, or mischievous fairies.  It was a surprisingly rich genre, and it rapidly crowded most other erotic indulgences out of my life.

It turns out, though, that such niche media come with all sorts of oppressive issues.

A great deal of what I utilized was quite obviously meant for usually-male aficionados of forced feminization as a form of humiliation, often as part of sadist-masochist dynamics.  Many of these stories inflicted womanhood on presumed-cis-men as a punishment for known or unknown transgressions.  The victim’s new, curvaceous body would subject him to a kind of psychic extinction, as horrific as it was enticing.  Its sexual urges would utterly overwhelm his mind and replace his personality with a new, insatiable, comfortably-female mind that, inevitably, ended up in the sex trade.  This pattern followed people who wronged witch doctors, scientists who angered the wrong colleague or friend, private investigators given false information about an assignment, and, memorably, a random courier who walked into a pretty-woman-for-hire service while they were panicking about an employee about to miss an appointment because she died.

Forced feminization, as a genre and activity, relies on the feminine being humiliating.  It cannot work on those who do not find the prospect of being seen in or made to wear feminine clothing, or the specific feminine clothing involved in a specific scene, embarrassing or shameful.  The coercion itself might be enough to induce the required feelings, but that is a separate matter.  That means that this genre of pornography and associated fetish are premised on misogyny, and if they were common and paraded openly, might be said to keep this notion prominent in mainstream culture.  That misogyny was amply displayed in the storied I read.  Womanhood was a punishment, and sapience could not make its home in a woman’s body for long without being subsumed into a cavernous libido and driven to make itself available for (inevitably male) consumption.  One story that, on these grounds, I’ll never forgive features a man who fantasizes about anatomical feminization who is granted a potion that turns him into his vision of an ideal woman…so he turns into a tall busty blonde absent-minded bisexual whose interests are, in order, sex, clothing and makeup, watching sports, and pub food, who has sex with strangers and her girlfriend in various combinations for a few days and then becomes a stripper.

I enjoyed these, even as I found them increasingly creepy and horrific.  I enjoyed them because being transformed at someone else’s behest removes the agency and the impetus from the person being transformed, and lets them pretend that they didn’t wish for it.  I enjoyed them because being someone else altogether didn’t sound so bad in those days, especially someone whose sexual response didn’t feel weird and foreign.  But they irritate me now.

That theme of being consumed by the sexual urges of one’s new be-breasted form was pervasive, showing up in virtually every piece longer than three or four pages.  It is a dim view of women, fantastical and limited.  It is also a prominent feature of male-gaze pornography at large, which often reduces female characters to de-personalized sex dispensers who don’t even much care who we’re bedding once we get sufficiently aroused.  I increasingly found stories with this motif boring…because, unlike their intended audience, I was identifying with the newly minted women and getting off on their narrative as much as their pert skin.

I also increasingly bristled at how the language used in these stories was consistently cis-centric.  Cis men with transmogrified bodies immediately became “she” and “her,” usually despite actively protesting this terminological shift, and sometimes had new names assigned to them without their input.  People actively desirous of transformation were never acknowledged as transgender, and were addressed with male pronouns until the moment they received their story’s equivalent to bottom surgery even if that was separated from other transformation steps by dozens of pages.  Few stories seemed to include or account for medical interventions for such people, instead leaving them in secret longing and despair until they encountered a magical solution.  Transmisogyny was nonexistent, and men who became pleased with their transformation after the fact were usually more, rather than less, desirable as sex partners, often with the idea that they “knew a man’s pleasure” better than cis women.

Leaving out transmisogyny heightened the escapism.  The goal was not grittily realistic accounts of what real “transformed” people endure, so this was rightly left out.  Nevertheless, having our challenges so blithely ignored didn’t seem like a calculated literary decision, but a convenient accident.  There is, however, little excuse for this genre’s insistence that genitals determine gender, even in the various worlds where the method du jour is so complete that it enables pregnancy and genetic progeny.  The worst example I encountered featured a supervillain who was annoyed that his subordinate, who was busily restructuring the memories of a transformed man to make him into an obedient wife, selected a narrative in which the victim had their original body at some point and wanted to be transformed.  The villain was annoyed because this narrative would make his victim “a transsexual”…with, I emphasize, a body magicked into indistinguishability from a cis woman’s.  Even the idea of a trans person, let alone the reality, was offensive to this character, who was chastened not for his bigotry but for doubting his subordinate’s methods.

I also got increasingly annoyed with how white this entire genre is.  Almost every character in every story, almost every stock photo imaginatively re-scripted and video clip re-subtitled, is white, white, white.  When non-white characters appear, they are almost always the result of a transformation performed on a white man.  The beautiful forms of East Asian, black, and Latin American women are extra layers of scandalous fun, either adding a racial element to a humiliating feminization or simply being “exotic” for visual variety.  Sometimes, the stories and writers would drop all pretense, such as having a story partially set in Colombia where every non-white character is a drug lord, or one set in Mexico where every non-white character is cleaning staff, or offering a survey in an attached forum polling readers what race the characters in their next work should be and having “white” win by a landslide.  Much as the way in which much of this medium operates serves as a continuous reminder that it caters to the male gaze, these insults remind me that these artists don’t care for their non-white readers.

There are several entire web sites I’ve mostly given up on, despite the visual quality of their offerings, because of these ongoing problems and how much more it hurts every time I see them.

Transition and estrogen together have effected a thorough rearrangement of my pornographic desires.  It’s harder to sustain a fantasy life based on living as a woman when that’s also one’s quotidian reality.  So, for a series of reasons, I’ve found myself rapidly gravitating toward the stories that focus on people who wanted transformation, or relished it, as they navigate their sexy new lives, and which don’t feature inevitably-stereotyped and awful minority characters and exclusionary language that together make me feel less than human.

And I keep that other stuff in mind, in case someone I know needs it later.

 

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